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Elections office fielding complaints from both sides over Sawant recall ballot

Dec 4, 2021, 8:40 AM | Updated: Dec 6, 2021, 12:01 pm
Kshama Sawant recall, threatening emails...
Kshama Sawant (KIRO Radio)
(KIRO Radio)

Seattle voters in District 3 are set to make one of the biggest political decisions the city has faced in recent history when they choose whether to recall City Councilmember Kshama Sawant on Tuesday.

There is plenty of politicking going on with both sides, whether directly involving the campaigns or not. Each side has brought in roughly $1 million and all there is to do now is wait. But some of those District 3 voters have had more to say about the special recall election, specifically regarding what’s actually on the ballot.

The ballot first states the charges for the recall.

(1) Used City resources to support a ballot initiative and failed to comply with the public disclosure requirements related to such support; (2) Disregarded state orders related to COVID-19 by admitting hundreds of people into City Hall on June 9, 2020 when it was closed to the public; (3) Led a protest march to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s private residence, the location of which Councilmember Sawant knew was protected under state confidentiality law

Which is followed by Sawant’s response to those charges.

Vote ‘NO’ on the right-wing recall. The charges against Kshama Sawant are dishonest, and the courts haven’t found her guilty of anything. Kshama, an immigrant woman of color, is being attacked for participating in peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. This recall is part of the racist right-wing backlash attempting to criminalize protest nationally. Big business and the right wing want to remove Kshama because she’s such an effective fighter for working people. Rather than appeasing the establishment, Kshama has used her 8 years in office to win historic victories like the $15 minimum wage and Amazon Tax to fund housing. Rather than taking home the $140,000 Councilmembers pay themselves, Kshama lives on an average worker’s wage and donates the majority of her salary to social justice movements. The recall is bankrolled by the corporate elite and 500+ Republicans, including Trump’s biggest Washington donor, George Petrie. Corporate landlords back it because they want to stop Kshama’s fight for rent control. Kshama didn’t lead the march on Mayor Durkan’s house, and it’s no crime to stand with Black Lives Matter as Kshama did at the peaceful City Hall rally. Kshama didn’t break the law, but like civil rights leaders and socialists before her, she’s always prepared to put herself on the line for working people. Ultimately this recall will be decided by you: will you vote ‘NO’ and stand with Kshama Sawant, one of the nation’s most progressive elected representatives, OR will you side with big business and the right wing?

Complaints started rolling in about the language almost right away, for comments such as “right wing recall,” “racist right wing backlash,” and more, according to King County Elections. Those complaints were not just about the wording of Sawant’s response, but also about the charges against her, which Sawant and her supporters say are false, misleading, and politically motivated.

Those complaining wanted to know how one or the other was allowed on the official ballot.

“It’s a great question. I think we very rarely have recall elections in Washington so folks aren’t used to seeing this,” said Kendal Hodson, King County Elections chief of staff.

“What appears on the ballot is actually explicitly laid out in Washington state law,” Hodson explained. “The law requires both the charges that have been filed against the officer of recall, as well as that officer’s statement. Both appear directly on the ballot, and that is absolutely unique to a recall election.”

In a typical election, candidates would have their say in the voter’s pamphlet statement.

“There really aren’t any prohibitions against what a candidate can or can’t say in their voter’s pamphlet statement,” Hodson said. “They certainly can’t be libelous, or, you know, there are some legal standards, what they can’t do, but it’s really pretty broad.”

Hodson said the same rules basically apply to recall ballot statements under RCW 29A.56.250 when it comes to the factual accuracy of statements on a recall ballot or voter’s pamphlet.

“We certainly don’t fact check those statements,” she explained. “We have 650 different candidates in the most recent election. So we’re not fact checking any of what the candidates say. We, certainly, in our rules, encourage them to talk only about themselves, not their opponent. But essentially they can use that statement about what they want to share with voters.”

“Those are the words that she’s hoping will save her job,” said Henry Bridger of the Recall Sawant campaign, who says he’s heard complaints from many supporters about Sawant’s statement.

“I’ve gotten calls and emails from people so angry and upset,” he explained. “They’ve even written the director of elections saying, ‘how can you let people put this on the ballot? This is just not right.’ And I’ve told everybody that’s complained to me about it, it’s freedom of speech. So she gets to say whatever she wants to save herself.”

As for Sawant, she makes no apologies for her statement and says critics are just showing their political agenda. Sawant says it’s the recall effort that’s the real problem.

“The right wing recall is deeply offensive to any idea of a modicum of democracy and upholding the will of the voters,” Sawant said. “That’s what’s offensive. That’s what’s scandalous. What we have written on the ballot, that’s our right by law. King County Elections determines that the recall gets to say what they want to say and that our solidarity campaign gets a response. So it is completely legal.”

Hodson says the fact is the candidates get these spaces to express what they want to say to the voters – period.

As for all of the complaints?

“Our staff are very used to handling challenging questions as part of their work. So they are used to it, though they’re certainly tired, but this is our business,” Hodson said. “So we’re always happy to make sure that we can have voters’ voices heard.”

Hodson has some advice to the voters navigating all of this.

“I think most important thing is to get your ballot in on time,” she said. “It’s a challenging time of year for an election, obviously, folks are wrapped up in holidays. So we always encourage voters to take their time and make sure they’re making the best decision for themselves. But to get that ballot in by 8 p.m. on Tuesday to a drop box.”

You can also drop the ballot in a mailbox, but Hodson says the day that they recommend the ballot be put in the mail has already passed – Friday.

Only District 3 voters cast ballots in this recall election, but the outcome will have implications across Seattle and all the way to Olympia.

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Elections office fielding complaints from both sides over Sawant recall ballot