As of Wednesday, 50.4 percent of voters in Seattle’s ultra-progressive third district voted “No” in the December 7 recall, meaning that they do not want to oust Sawant from office. Sawant has a 309-vote margin over the 49.6 percent of voters who voted “Yes” to the recall.
There are still 426 outstanding ballots that have not been counted, primarily because the voters either didn’t sign them, or the signature on the ballot doesn’t match the signature on file at the elections office, said Halei Watkins, a King County Elections spokeswoman. Those voters have until 4:30 p.m. Thursday to fill out and return a form to get their ballot counted before the election is officially certified on Friday afternoon. Closing the 309-vote margin appears unlikely.
“The wealthy and their representatives in politics and the media took their shot at us and we beat them again,” Sawant told supporters, according to local news accounts. Sawant had all along blasted the effort as a “big business-backed, right-wing recall” funded by Republican donors and supporters of former president Donald Trump.
Organizers of the recall campaign denied that they were Republicans or Trump supporters. Henry Bridger II, the director of the recall, says he is a progressive who is only “probably one step to her right” politically. The campaign, he said, was not about Sawant’s ideology, but about holding her accountable for breaking the law.
Attempts to reach Bridger for comment after the election were unsuccessful. He released a statement praising the volunteer-led recall campaign that launched a year and a half ago.
“While this election may not end with removing Sawant from office, let her narrow escape send a clear message: Seattle voters will not tolerate slash-and-burn politicians who shirk accountability and divide the city,” Bridger said in the written statement.
Sawant’s apparent narrow victory should send a message, said Paul Guppy, research director at the Washington Policy Center, a non-partisan free-market think tank that was not involved in the recall effort. “It does send a message to her that the radical style that she has is not really welcome, even in her own district,” Guppy said.
Whether Sawant receives that message or doubles down on her radicalism remains to be seen. But, Guppy noted, Sawant will have to adapt to operating in a slightly more moderate political atmosphere in Seattle. In November, more moderate, pro-police candidates won races for mayor, city attorney, and city council.
“Sawant-type, defund-the-police candidates in other races, they all lost,” Guppy said.
Organizers of the Sawant recall focused their efforts on three charges against Sawant:
First, in June 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota, Sawant used her keys to open the door to city hall for a rally with more than 1,000 anti-police protesters, violating the state’s coronavirus lockdown orders. Then, later that month, Sawant helped lead a march of anti-police protesters to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s home. Durkan’s address is supposed to be confidential because she is a former federal prosecutor.
And in early May, Sawant agreed to pay a $3,500 find as part of a settlement with the city’s ethics and elections commission for using city funds to help pay for her ballot initiative to institute a payroll tax on high-paying jobs at Amazon and other big Seattle businesses. She also used her official city council website to promote the initiative, created posters in support of the initiative using the city of Seattle seal, and spent more than $1,700 in city funds on the effort.
In Washington, politicians can only be recalled for “malfeasance, misfeasance, or violation of their oath of office.” Sawant insists she’s done nothing wrong, that she’s never been charged with a crime, and that she paid a fine for the ethics violation, which has been settled.
On her city council website, Sawant rails against “the existing profit-hungry capitalist system,” pledges to “fight for a socialist society,” and says that her office “will proudly continue to serve as an organizing center for movements to fight for that change.” In 2017, Sawant wrote an article in the socialist magazine Jacobin, calling for a “wave of protests and strikes” on May Day and “mass peaceful civil disobedience that shuts down highways, airports, and other key infrastructure.” ✪