Nearly 40% of eligible voters have already voted on whether to recall Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, though precise turnout estimates are hard to gauge for the unprecedented election. 

According to King County Elections, about 38.5% of voters eligible to participate in the potential recall of the District 3 council member had already cast ballots as of a midday count Monday. Only those registered in District 3 are eligible to vote.

On Friday, Kendall Hodson, King County Elections chief of staff, said the office was projecting roughly a 50% turnout by the ballot return deadline of 8 p.m. Tuesday. Projections for this election — a December election in an off year and the first recall election of a Seattle City Council member — lack historical precedent.

Sawant, who was reelected to represent District 3 in 2019, is facing a recall in the middle of her term for three charges related to her conduct during racial justice protests and efforts to tax Amazon in 2020. If she’s recalled, the remaining eight members of the council will appoint a replacement to serve until a special election in November 2022.

King County Director of Elections Julie Wise said in a statement on the county’s website that the off date was a compromise due to the unusual nature of a council member being recalled midterm.

“A number of factors influenced our decision to set the recall election on December 7. With both the November General and February Special elections being outside of the realm of possibility, we looked at dates that would reduce overlap between elections for our voters and sought to avoid the busy December holiday season as much as possible,” Wise wrote. “There’s no perfect date to schedule an election but our hope is that voters will show up, turn out, and use their voice in this election just like any other.”

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But turnout is already exceeding expectations. 

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“Standalone recalls are really rare, so there’s not a lot of history to go on,” Hodson said in an email Friday. “We are currently running ahead of our daily projections by 5-6 percentage points, which means either people are voting earlier than they usually do or turnout will likely be higher.”

The incomplete Monday numbers showed that 38.5%, or 29,751 voters, had returned ballots, up from 25,816 on Friday, when turnout was around 33%.

While Hodson said those numbers mean turnout is still “definitely ahead” of what they projected, final collections for the day had not been counted, and it’s unclear how Tuesday’s turnout will fair. 

“What we don’t know is if this means turnout is going to be much higher, or if people just voted early,” Hodson said Monday, noting the 2020 presidential election in which 72.7% percent of eligible Washington voters had cast ballots by the same point in the election, landing at 83.4% in the final count.

Results of the recall will not be posted until after voting closes Tuesday. If turnout stays around the projected level, Hodson says, the county will be able to count and post about 50% to 60% of the results on Tuesday after polls close, with final counts likely to be completed Friday.

Ballots can be returned in person at drop boxes until 8 p.m. Tuesday or by mail, postmarked no later than Tuesday.