Kshama Sawant critics and backers spent the summer competing for support on the streets of Seattle neighborhoods ahead of a potential vote on whether to recall the City Council member. They knocked on doors, canvassed at parks, traded barbs with each other and collected signatures. The critics even flew a plane over Capitol Hill with a banner that read “RECALL SAWANT.”
But the proposed recall will not appear on the Nov. 2 ballot alongside regularly scheduled races for Seattle mayor and other positions. The Recall Sawant campaign has yet to submit the petition signatures that could qualify the recall for a vote, and the deadline for the Nov. 2 election has passed.
The recall could still qualify for an election this winter, however.
“We are way past the point of possibility for the Sawant recall to be on the November ballot,” King County Elections spokesperson Halei Watkins said this week. “Ballots and voter pamphlets will go to print next week.”
Recall Sawant says it has yet to submit its signatures because more signatures need to be collected. The Kshama Solidarity campaign, which is backing Sawant, says Recall Sawant intentionally missed the deadline for the Nov. 2 election based on the hope that young voters and others likely to support Sawant are less likely to turn out in the winter.
To secure a recall election (an up-or-down vote on Sawant staying in office), Recall Sawant must submit at least 10,687 valid signatures from District 3 voters (25% of the votes cast in 2019’s general election, not including write-in votes). District 3 covers Capitol Hill, First Hill, the Central District, Montlake, Madison Valley and Madison Park.
Under the recall process, the campaign was given 180 days to collect signatures. That period ends Oct. 19. The signatures must come from District 3 voters only, and only District 3 voters will be allowed to participate if a recall election is held. Recall elections must be held 45 to 90 days after signatures are certified by King County Elections, and the certification process takes two to four weeks.
District 3 voter Ernest Lou launched the recall effort last summer, accusing Sawant of four offenses: delegating her office’s employment decisions to her political party, Socialist Alternative; using city resources to promote a “Tax Amazon” ballot initiative; letting demonstrators into City Hall during protests last June when the building was closed to the public due to COVID-19; and leading a Black Lives Matter march outside Mayor Jenny Durkan’s house despite knowing the address was protected by a confidentiality program because of Durkan’s past work as a federal prosecutor.
The Washington state Supreme Court ruled unanimously in April that three of the charges were sufficient, rejecting the charge that Sawant delegated employment decisions. The court’s role in the recall process is to assume the charges are true and to determine whether they’re specific and serious enough to warrant potential removal from office. State law says the charges must represent “misfeasance, malfeasance or violation of the oath of office.”
Sawant has objected to the charges on various grounds. Many protests were allowed last summer and letting people into City Hall was within her discretion, she’s said. She didn’t organize the march to Durkan’s house; she only took part, she and other participants have said. She used city resources only to promote discussions about possibility of launching the Tax Amazon initiative, before an official campaign was formed, she’s said.
The court rejected those arguments as reasons to block the petition. If a recall election is held, District 3 voters will decide whether the allegations are true and, if so, whether she should be removed.
In May, Sawant admitted that she had improperly used city resources to support the Tax Amazon initiative and agreed to pay the city $3,516 to settle charges with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. She described the infraction as a minor misunderstanding while blasting the recall effort as a right-wing attempt to quash her support at City Hall for workers and renters.
Recall Sawant has collected more than 12,000 signatures, campaign manager Henry Bridger said this week. In a twist, there also more than 3,000 from Kshama Solidarity, Bridger said. Kshama Solidarity decided in July to collect signatures in a push to decide the recall on Nov. 2, rather than later.
The recall campaign’s aim is to collect 13,000 to 14,000 ballots from people who the campaign can verify are District 3 voters, Bridger said. King County Elections recommends that campaigns turn in 25% to 30% more signatures than required, because some always get rejected.
“We need that buffer,” Bridger said.
Collecting signatures has been challenging for Recall Sawant due to COVID-19 concerns and meddling by Kshama Solidarity, Bridger said. When Sawant’s supporters started collecting signatures, that confused some voters, he said.
“We can’t rely on (the Kshama Solidarity) signatures,” he added.
Kshama Solidarity spokesperson Bryan Koulouris said the recall campaign, by targeting a winter election, is engaging in “voter suppression.”
“They know the electorate for a special winter election … will be older, wealthier and whiter,” he said. “We wanted high turnout.”
Each campaign has reported more than $620,000 in donations. Recall Sawant has reported more than $160,000 in legal expenses, while Sawant’s court defense was covered by the city. Recall Sawant spent close to $6,000 on sky-banner flights in July, as covered at the time by Capitol Hill Seattle Blog. Recall Sawant has about 4,700 reported donors, including about 1,600 from District 3. Kshama Solidarity has about 6,700 reported donors, including about 2,200 from District 3.
The recall process has been a slog, and some Recall Sawant supporters have become impatient, but the campaign is determined to see the effort through, Bridger said, predicting high turnout whenever an election is held.
Kshama Solidarity gained momentum over the summer and expects to benefit from a push by Sawant at City Hall for rent control, Koulouris said.
“We’re going to have to build up the biggest get-out-the-vote operation this city has ever seen,” he said.
Clarification: This story has been updated with more accurate information about the number of signatures collected for the recall petition.