Now that nearly all the straggling ballots have been counted, it’s worth looking at what really stood out in the totals for Seattle’s key 2021 races. How do they compare historically? And what lessons can be gleaned for future elections? Here’s a look:
Harrell’s historic win. Bruce Harrell’s margin of victory — more than 17 percentage points — was one of the largest of the last seven Seattle mayoral races dating back to 1997, with the lone exception of 2005, when then-Mayor Greg Nickels shellacked challenger Al Runte by a 28-percentage-point margin.
And that Nickels-Runte race was not really comparable. Runte, a former University of Washington professor, was a novice candidate who did not field a serious campaign, raising less than $17,000.
This year, Harrell’s rival, Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González, raised nearly $1 million for her mayoral bid. She also benefitted from another $1 million in spending by a labor-backed political action committee on the way to a decisive loss. (Harrell raised $1.3 million and was supported by a business-funded PAC that raised roughly the same amount.)
Late vote surges: the new normal. Harrell's victory looked like it might be even larger on election night, when he led by about 30 percentage points.
But Seattle election watchers have grown accustomed to a predictable swing in votes tallied later — toward the candidates perceived as further left politically. The clear lesson from this year's ballot batches: any progressive down 12 to 14 percentage points on election night can catch up.
González, along with City Council candidate Nikkita Oliver, city attorney candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and council incumbent Teresa Mosqueda, all benefited from late-vote surges of that magnitude, though, unlike in some past years, the trendline didn't flip the outcome of any race.
Who voted later? The surges by progressive candidates can be partly attributed to younger voters, according to a Seattle Times analysis.
The median age of voters whose ballots were received by the Friday before Election Day was 56. There were about 95,000 ballots in that group, accounting for most of the votes tallied on election night.
Meanwhile, the median age of voters whose ballots were received on or after Election Day was 43. There were about 123,000 votes in that group.
The same phenomenon has characterized past elections, though the late-voting group appears to be growing younger over time. In 2015, the median age of voters whose ballots were received on Election Day was 53, versus 47 in 2019 and 42 this November.
Who bothered to vote at all? In off-year elections with relatively low turnout, older voters play a crucial role, because they participate at higher rates.
Turnout in Seattle this November was 54% across the board. But among voters 65 and older, it was much higher (closer to three-quarters), and among voters ages 18-24, it was much lower (closer to one-third).
Sheer numbers also matter, and the city is home to a lot of people ages 25-34, including about 129,000 who were registered to vote as of earlier this year. More ballots were returned this November by that group of millennials than by the city's 35-44 and 45-54 groups.
The 25-34 cohort cast 54,200 ballots, or about 20% of all votes, while the 65-and-over group contributed about 63,000 ballots.