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Seattle red lining
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Red-lining, race, and wealth continue to form borders between Seattle voters

A map of Seattle voters in the 2021 August primary (left) and a map of Seattle's historical red-lining from the National Archives.

There’s a lot we can glean from Seattle’s voting habits in each election, from how the city has skewed more and more progressive in the leaders it’s elected in recent years, to how conservative interests still remain present despite that fact. During the August mayoral primary, though, the candidates voters chose painted an even broader picture of a city divided along racial and economic lines dating back nearly a century.

Seattle’s history of housing segregation remains apparent today

To fully grasp that picture, we first need to understand Seattle’s history of racial red-lining, which for decades in the early 1900s, effectively banned Black home buyers from purchasing houses in white, affluent neighborhoods. That was enforced by racist housing covenants written into deeds for thousands of Seattle properties, stating that they couldn’t be sold to any non-white resident.

Those walled-off neighborhoods may no longer formally adhere to those covenants, but in the years since, their demographics have largely remained the same. That includes parts of Magnolia, Queen Anne, north Capitol Hill, Skyway Park, Laurelhurst, and west Ballard.

Today, those neighborhoods also represent a bloc of wealthy, white Seattle voters, with the red lines of the past now also representing political borders. For former council president and mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell, that bloc made up a substantial portion of his voters in the primary, on the strength of support from several prominent conservative donors.

On the other side of the political spectrum, current council president and fellow mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez scored a large portion of precincts in less affluent (and less white) neighborhoods.

Comparing results from the primary against maps laying out Seattle’s historical red-lining practices further emphasizes that trend.

The map on the left of the image below shows the precincts won by each candidate, with red representing where Harrell took more votes, and blue signifying victories for Gonzalez. The red areas in a map from the University of Washington’s Civil Rights and Labor History Project on the right indicate neighborhoods where racial restrictions were historically written into property records.

Seattle voting, red-lining maps

In the next image, the map on the left again represents the precincts won by Harrell and Gonzalez, while the one on the right lays out the areas of the city with the highest concentration of white residents.

Seattle voting maps

Those aren’t the only borders drawn between voters for each candidate. Many of those same previously red-lined areas Harrell won in the primary also happen to encompass wide swathes of Seattle zoned specifically for single-family homes, while neighborhoods with denser housing swung towards Gonzalez.

Data from Zillow also shows that with a few exceptions, the bulk of Harrell’s support came from areas with the highest housing prices, including seven zip codes where the average cost of a home currently sits above $1 million. In precincts where Gonzalez scored more votes, home prices trended under that $1 million threshold.

Another election, another late surge for Seattle’s progressive candidates

Election data compiled by a local software engineer here shows similar divides in other Seattle races where there’s a clear choice between a more conservative and more progressive candidate. Many of the same precincts won by Harrell were also taken by Republican city attorney candidate Ann Davison and Seattle City Council candidate Sara Nelson. Areas won by Gonzalez trended toward abolitionist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy for city attorney, and progressive activist Nikkita Oliver for city council.

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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