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What’s next for Kshama Sawant recall with November vote no longer likely?

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant. (Kshama Solidarity, YouTube)

With the likelihood of a recall vote for Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant taking place in November quickly dwindling, several questions remain as to what comes next. That includes uncertainty surrounding signature gathering efforts, when a vote is most likely to take place, and where the effort currently stands.

When are signatures due?

The recall campaign has until mid-October before a 180-day window to gather 10,739 verified signatures from District 3 voters expires, constituting 25% of total votes cast in the last election for the district’s council seat in 2019.

Once the recall’s signatures are turned in, King County Elections estimates that it will take between two and four weeks to validate them. They then have between 45 to 90 days to hold the actual recall vote, largely depending on the time it takes to certify the signatures and how quickly they’re processed.

While there isn’t a hard deadline to get on any one election, there are significant time constraints surrounding the signature validation process. That includes building the recall into the voters’ pamphlet, translating recall language into Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese, printing the ballots, and then finally sending them out to the U.S. Postal Service for distribution.

If a previously scheduled election does fall during that 45 to 90 day window, King County Elections would look to target that date for a recall vote. If there is no existing election in that period, they would “look at the elections calendar and try to find a date that doesn’t have a ton of overlap with an already scheduled election.”

“For example, it wouldn’t be ideal to schedule a recall election on the day before we send out ballots for the February election (ballots go out to overseas/service voters on January 7 and to regular voters on January 19),” King County Elections Communications Officer Halei Watkins described to MyNorthwest. “That has a lot of potential to confuse voters and one of our priorities is making things as clear as possible for our voters.”

There is also a preference for avoiding a recall vote around holiday periods “when folks are traveling or tuned out.”

“As with all elections, we want to make sure that our voters have every opportunity to cast their ballot and make their voice heard and scheduling in the midst of holidays doesn’t meet that mission,” Watkins clarified.

Sawant recall quietly misses chance to get on November ballot

As of late last week, the recall campaign has yet to turn in its signatures. King County Elections says that while it is “not past the point of possibility,” it’s also “past the point of being able to guarantee” getting the vote on November’s general election ballot. That eventuality solidifies with every passing day, given that ballots for overseas and service voters are scheduled to be sent out on Sept. 17.

Who wants what?

The recall campaign announced in an early-July mailer that it had gathered 9,000 signatures, setting a goal to gather between 13,000 to 14,000 under the assumption that some would be deemed invalid. At the time, it stated its intention to put a recall vote on the November ballot.

Kshama Solidarity — the group operating in support of Sawant — then began collecting signatures of its own, doubling down on a November recall showdown in hopes of leveraging the higher turnout to rally progressive voters. In total, the group estimates that it has gathered and turned in more than roughly 3,000 signatures, and by its own estimates believes the recall should have a number of signatures consistent with the campaign’s stated goals last month.

Meanwhile, the campaign’s goals have since become more nebulous. In a recorded conversation between Kshama Solidarity supporters and recall manager Henry Bridger, Bridger states that the campaign is now hoping to gather 20,000 signatures.

A statement to MyNorthwest from Bridger indicated a separate total, constituting “a minimum of 48% more signatures collected than the actual number required to hopefully qualify for the ballot.” That would put the campaign’s minimum requirement for submission at just under 16,000.

That’s based off of a 52% signature validation rate seen by Compassion Seattle’s recently-proposed ballot initiative last month. For most campaigns, King County Elections advises petitioners to submit “about 20-30% more signatures than you need to qualify,” clarifying that Compassion Seattle’s validation percentage was “a bit low for what we normally see.”

What happens next?

At this point, it is unclear how many signatures the recall currently has in hand, when it plans to turn those signatures in, or whether it is now targeting a 2022 special election date.

In a statement from Bridger on Aug. 2, he insisted that the campaign “would be not bullied by Sawant or her supporters,” while casting doubt on the validity of signatures gathered by Kshama Solidarity.

“With her record of ethical and legal violations, Sawant’s meddling in the signature gathering effort cannot be trusted,” he said. “This manipulative stunt has only complicated our verification process and confused voters.”

Bridger reiterated that in a subsequent statement to MyNorthwest on Monday, detailing how the campaign is “still working through an internal verification process which has been vastly complicated by Councilmember Sawant’s interference in the signature gathering.”

“When we are confident we have collected enough signed and verified petitions to qualify for the ballot, we will submit them to King County Elections,” he added.

Campaign accuses Sawant of ‘co-opting’ recall process

Kshama Solidarity has countered by claiming that the recall has been purposefully avoiding the November general election.

“The Republican-backed Recall Campaign explicitly said from the start that they were pushing for a special election, which records show suppresses voter turnout by around 25%, or even as much as 40% or 50%,” the group said on Twitter. “Most people are accustomed to voting in November, which means disproportionately renters, people of color, and low-income voters are less likely to follow a special election.”

Under the assumption that a special election recall vote is the most likely outcome at this point, Kshama Solidarity has already begun mobilizing what it hopes will be “the biggest Get Out the Vote effort Seattle has ever seen.”

Questions, comments, or feedback? Follow Nick Bowman on Twitter at @NickNorthwest to weigh in, or reach him by email at [email protected]

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