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Kshama Sawant claims 'apparent victory' with slight lead in recall vote

The vote is too close to officially call in the recall election of Kshama Sawant.

SEATTLE — Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant claimed an "apparent victory" Friday after she gained a narrow lead in the election on whether to recall her. 

Another 87 ballots were counted Friday, maintaining Sawant's narrow lead. 

The "no" vote, which means Sawant would keep her job, leads with 50.31% and a total of 20,467 ballots. The "yes" vote, which would recall Sawant, has 20,218 ballots and 49.49% of the vote. 

That's a margin of 249 votes in Sawant's favor. 

Sawant said Friday, "This victory was brought to you by the political ideas and clarity of Socialist Alternative, as were all our past election victories, as were the $15 minimum wage and the Amazon Tax and renters’ rights."

The recall election has not been called by KING 5 yet. 

Ballots for the single-issue election were sent to voters in District 3, which includes areas of Capitol Hill, First Hill, the Central District, Madrona, Montlake and Leschi. More than 76,000 voters live in District 3. 

About 40,000 ballots were counted as of Thursday. Another ballot count will occur Friday.

There are still 591 ballots with signature challenges left to be counted. Challenged ballots have until Dec. 16 to be verified, according to King County Elections. 

If recalled, Sawant would be removed from office on Dec. 17. The Seattle City Council would then have 20 days to appoint a replacement to fill the seat until a special election in November 2022. Sawant would be eligible to run for this same seat or another office.

Sawant's current term is up in 2023.

The people behind the effort to recall Sawant say she violated her oath of office on three different occasions. She admitted to violating city ethics laws by using public funds to promote a ballot initiative. The recall also said she violated state COVID-19 policies when she unlocked City Hall for a protest after hours and used her official position to lead a protest march to Mayor Jenny Durkan's home, which is protected under a state confidentiality program.

RELATED: Sawant recall election divides Seattle's Central District, Capitol Hill neighborhood

Sawant has labeled the recall as a "racist, right-wing campaign" while at the same time not doing much to dispute the three charges against her, as validated by the state Supreme Court.

As projected, turnout was high for the recall election. King County Elections reported Wednesday that 40,954 ballots were turned in, which is about 52.8% turnout.

More people in District 3 also voted early in the single-issue election than the November general election the month prior. King County had received 29,733 ballots by the day before the December election versus 23,339 ballots before the November election.

If Sawant were removed from office, KING 5 Political Analyst Ron Sims, a former King County executive, said she would need to re-establish enthusiasm, which could prove difficult.

Donations piled up on both sides leading up to the election, with Sawant raising nearly $1 million, a majority of it coming from outside city limits. By contrast, the Recall campaign raised closer to $780,000, with most donations of $1,000 or less, much of that from inside District 3. Another political action committee seeking Sawant's recall has raised more than $180,000.

On Thursday, King County election workers continued verifying signatures and processing ballots. There were still nearly 600 ballots with signature issues at the end of the day. 

"In Washington state, the way we confirm you are the person who was supposed to vote your ballot is with your signature," said Kendall Hodson, chief of staff for King County Elections. "So every voter has to sign the back of that envelope. We compare every single signature - human beings do that - and if for some reason the person forgot to sign or maybe it wasn't a match, we're going to call that voter, we'll email them, and say hey, we just want to confirm you were the person to vote your ballot, sign this, send it back and get it counted."

Hodson recommends voters check the online ballot tracker through the King County Elections website to ensure their signature was verified. If not, they may receive a letter, call or email. Signatures can be verified through Dec. 16, and Hodson said the election is set to be certified Dec. 17. Even if the election is close, Hodson said it won't automatically trigger a recount, but that could happen if a campaign requests one.

"What's interesting is, this is considered a local ballot measure and under state law, there aren't mandatory recount rules for local ballot measures," Hodson said. "There are for local races, and it very much depends on the size of the race, but there isn't a mandatory recount for local measures like a recall election. It could certainly be requested by one of the parties or campaigns, etc. Those folks would have to pay the cost for that recount, is the consideration."


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