Two ballot measures intending to scale back the power of the King County sheriff were leading in Tuesday night’s vote count.
King County Charter Amendment 5, which would move the sheriff from an elected position, as it has been since 1996, to one appointed by the county executive and approved by the Metropolitan King County Council, was leading with 57% of the vote.
King County Charter Amendment 6, which would give the County Council the ability to reduce the sheriff’s duties and power, was leading with 63%.
This is the first local test of this summer’s Black Lives Matter movement, according to Metropolitan King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, one of the most vocal supporters of the two amendments and the only Black councilmember on the county council.
“It doesn’t surprise me, because I know how much work that organizers and marchers have been putting in to shed a spotlight on what needs to be done,” Zahilay said.
Supporters say appointing a sheriff would depoliticize the office and allow for a nationwide search for the best candidate. Opponents argue the sheriff should answer directly to the people, and that is best accomplished in an election.
Supporters of giving the County Council authority over the Sheriff’s Office say it’s a necessary first step toward potentially creating a department that could respond to certain 911 calls with social workers or mental health professionals, rather than armed law enforcement. Opponents argue it is a precursor to defunding the Sheriff’s Office.
King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht declined to comment, but a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said they will release a statement on Wednesday.
Zahilay and supporters of the measures had been nervous until tonight; police unions had spent hundreds of thousands to defeat the amendments. As of Oct. 20, the campaign opposing the changes had raised more than $200,000 with money from the union that represents King County sheriff’s deputies, the Seattle Police Officers Guild and the national American Police Officers Guild, among others.
The campaign in support only raised about $6,000 as of Oct. 20, and more than half of that came personally from King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, a supporter of the measure.
The move to give authority over public safety to the County Council emerged this summer, following the waves of protests over systemic racism and police brutality, but the change to appoint the sheriff was suggested by a county commission after a two-year study.