Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant pulled ahead of a ballot measure to recall her in Thursday’s vote count, earning 50.3% of the total counted votes. Sawant has gained ground two days in a row, overcoming a 53% lead held by the recall effort on Tuesday. 

But three days into the ballot count, the race is too close to call with just 232 votes separating the “yes” and “no” votes of more than 40,000 voters, and nearly 600 ballots pending due to signature challenges. 

In previous elections, Sawant has similarly gained late in the count, overcoming a similar 54% initial lead by her opponent in the 2019 election.

But, with 591 ballots being challenged because of the signatures — more than twice as many than the current vote spread — and mailed ballots slowly coming in until Dec. 16, Sawant could hold steady, gain or lose votes.

“It’s just going to be a bit of a trickle up until it’s certified,” King County Elections Chief of Staff Kendall Hodson said, noting that the county received nearly 40 valid ballots in the mail on Thursday.

In many Washington elections, a margin of less than 0.5% of total voters and under 2,000 voters would trigger an automatic recount. Though this election has potential to fall in those categories, there are no automatic recounts of ballot measures, including recalls.

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“The catch is that [campaign officials] would have to request a recount,” Hodson said Thursday.

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If either campaign requests a recount, it would have be done by 4:30 p.m. Dec. 21, two business days after results are certified on Dec. 17. And the campaign requesting it would have to pay for the recount.

“It’s not a small amount of time. It’s probably a couple of days work for a lot of people, so it’s not a cheap endeavor,” Hodson said. “We’re working on [a cost estimate] right now.” she added.

In the meantime, Hodson says ballot return and signature challenge data is publicly available, and she encourages District 3 voters to make sure their ballots have been counted, noting that both campaigns are doing the same. She said her office is attempting to contact voters whose signatures aren’t verified.

The Kshama Solidarity Campaign said in a statement to supporters late Thursday that the “fight is not yet over,” encouraging voters to track their ballots.

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Both the solidarity campaign and the recall campaign declined to comment Thursday. Both campaigns have each raised nearly $1 million.

Sawant, first elected in 2013 and reelected in 2015 and 2019, and the first Seattle Council member to land on a recall ballot, represents District 3 — including Capitol Hill, the Central District, First Hill, Madison Park, Chinatown International District, Madrona and Mount Baker. Her current term ends in 2023.

The recall effort makes three accusations. One is that she used city resources to support a proposed “Tax Amazon” ballot initiative and didn’t comply with public disclosure requirements related to those expenses. In May, she settled with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission for $3,516, twice the amount she spent.

Sawant is also accused of defying COVID-19 safety orders by letting hundreds of protesters into City Hall after hours in June 2020. Sawant confirms that she opened City Hall but says she did not violate any laws. In addition, Sawant is accused of leading a march to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s house, though Durkan’s address is protected by a state confidentiality program because of her past work as a federal prosecutor. Sawant admits to and was recorded participating in the march but has said she was not involved in organizing it.