Ryan Calkins remembers the server patting him on the shoulder and others wishing him better luck next time. Calkins, challenging the then-longest serving incumbent on the Port Commission, was behind by nearly three points. It was a disappointing election night party at Optimism Brewing Company.
“You know, you don’t get to celebrate when you’re down on election night,” Calkins said.
In the 2021 primary, the 73 ballot boxes across King County closed Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. Just 15 minutes later, King County had results for the 2021 primary on their website. But don’t pop the champagne just yet because these results are not final. The team of around 300 permanent and temporary staff members at King County Elections will count ballots until the election results are certified in two weeks, according to Halei Watkins of King County Elections.
During this time, the results can change — take it from Calkins.
The slim lead that incumbent John Creighton had over Calkins stood in contrast to a couple almost guaranteed victories on the general election night in November 2017. Seattle Council President Lorena González had a decisive 35-percentage-point lead over her competition for council position 9, and Teresa Mosqueda was 23 points ahead for position 8.
“The news of my demise is greatly exaggerated,” Calkins remembered thinking. “It’s not over yet. I think I’ve still got a chance.”
After barely underperforming Creighton when he challenged from the left in the August 2017 primary, Calkins knew it would be close. On the night of the general election that year, Calkins was behind by 7,418 votes.
The first results posted by King County Elections typically include half or less of the eventual total votes, according to Watkins. Usually, this includes ballots King County Elections has received until Monday before Election Day. Anything that comes in Monday afternoon until the ballot boxes close at 8 p.m. will be counted and included in later results which are updated every 24 hours.
“If we did not post any results between Election Day and certification, people would be knocking down our door,” Watkins joked.
Calkins made something of an afternoon ritual of “madly refreshing” the results on the King County Elections website, doing the calculus to see if he still had a chance.
Two days after the election, Calkins and Creighton were essentially neck-and-neck. From then on, Calkins’ numbers continued to climb. By certification time, Calkins had pulled ahead by 25,177 votes.
Because ballots are counted in the order they are received, the swing in results means Calkins had more support with late voters. According to Watkins, King County Elections typically sees that “less diligent” or “less regular” voters tend to vote late rather than early.
According to Dean Nielsen, the founder of Seattle-based political consulting firm CN4 Partners, voting regularity often correlates with factors such as age, home-ownership and education. In a partisan race, Nielsen says these irregular voters, who tend to be younger and more likely to rent, often favor Democratic candidates.
In races that are more or less entirely Democrat-leaning, Nielsen says the same logic applies.
“In Seattle, we see the progressive vote comes in later,” Nielsen said. “The more lefty candidate starts further down, and then they’ll either expand their lead or catch up with the other candidate later. And you’ve seen that time and time again.”
In the 2019 Redmond City Council race, Varisha Khan was down just over 5 points on election night. By certification, Khan surpassed her opponent by a narrow 66 votes. Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant saw a 12 point turnaround in her 2019 bid for reelection from election night to certification.
Watkins says there could be a handful of close races in the 2021 primary that will be decided more concretely in the week following the election. Voters tend to turn in their ballots especially late in summer primaries for local elections.
Nielsen said he expects a late progressive vote to bolster challenger Sen. Joe Nguyen in the King County executive race and Nikkita Oliver for council position 9. Regardless, Watkins says King County Elections will be busy counting until the 2021 primary results are certified.
Hannah Krieg studied journalism at the University of Washington. She is especially interested in covering politics, social issues and anything that gives her an excuse to speak with activists.
Read more of the Aug. 4-10, 2021 issue.