December election date likely made Sawant recall vote closer than it would have been
Perhaps it was an expansive “get out the vote” campaign, or that Seattle’s District 3 residents simply like voting. Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that the turnout for a bid to recall City Councilmember Kshama Sawant has been surprising to say the very least.
Sawant’s camp consistently fought to get the recall on the November ballot, even going so far as to help collect signatures to force the campaign’s hand. The prevailing concern was that winter special elections rarely feature high turnout, and that asking District 3 voters to cast ballots in their third election in four months would scare away progressives who would be more politically engaged for a regularly scheduled election.
And with voters tasked in November with deciding on a new mayor, city attorney, and two at-large councilmembers, what could be more engaging than that?
What happened instead was staggering by any measure. When it’s all said and done, over 41,000 people will have cast their votes in this recall, with turnout sitting just above 53% for the district. By comparison, District 3’s turnout for the November general election was nearly on par at 55%, with a difference of just 1,200 more ballots.
It’s difficult to discern which direction a recall currently separated by roughly 250 votes would have moved if it had instead taken place last month. If you’re Kshama Sawant, the belief is that a November recall vote would have yielded a “far larger margin of victory” for her, she said in a statement delivered late last week, and that her win will have been in spite of the December special election date, not because of it.
Using November’s general election results a barometer, we can at least get some sense of how accurate Sawant may be in that claim.
Precinct data provided to MyNorthwest by King County Elections shows that Nikkita Oliver — whose politics and policies largely mirror Sawant’s — won District 3 by just over 3,600 votes, pulling in a total of 22,503 votes to Sara Nelson’s 18,839. Abolitionist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy prevailed in the district by a similar margin in the race for city attorney, besting Ann Davison by a 22,892 to 17,361 margin.
In 2019 — where turnout was up around 59% in District 3 — Sawant won reelection to her seat with 22,263 votes, by a margin of 1,775 votes over challenger Egan Orion. The district has also added an additional 2,500 registered voters between 2019 and 2021. As of Monday night, Sawant is beating the December recall by a considerably slimmer 20,590 to 20,281 margin.
So, what does that all that tell us? Most likely, it means that Sawant was correct in her assertion that the larger turnout afforded by a November recall would have helped her more than it hurt her, especially given how her district largely leaned toward similar candidates despite the more moderate shift citywide.
As it is, the eight-year councilmember will live to fight another day, putting a period on a recall vote set on an otherwise unassuming Tuesday in December.