The lone socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s strong base of signature-gathering supporters are something of a permanent fixture in Seattle’s Capitol Hill area. Kailyn Nicholson has canvassed many times on behalf of Sawant’s office and its pet issues — the push for $15 minimum wage in 2014 and Tax Amazon in 2020. When Sawant faced a recall, Nicholson took signatures of District Three residents who pledged to support Sawant — that is, until the Kshama Solidarity campaign switched tactics.
In the past weeks, loyal Sawant canvassers have been more eager than the recall campaigners to force a vote on the November ballot.
Despite the Kshama Solidarity campaign's quirky strategy to collect on behalf of the recall effort, the Recall Sawant campaign did not submit the signatures by the Aug. 3 deadline. The Kshama Solidarity campaign calls delaying the recall to a lower turn-out election an act of voter suppression.
“They don’t want a normal November election because that’s when most people vote,” Sawant said Aug. 2 at the “Put Up or Shut Up” rally outside the offices of the recall’s lawyer, John McKay. “They don’t want working people, people of color, young people or renters to vote. They feel, correctly so, that the only way they can win is an election dominated by the wealthiest, whitest possible electorate.”
She continued, “In short, if you are an ordinary person, a working person or a renter in District Three then they are afraid of you.”
According to its website, Recall Sawant wants her out of office for three reasons: Sawant has admitted she misused her office resources to promote the Tax Amazon initiative; she led a group of Black Lives Matter protesters into City Hall illegally last June; and she marched with protesters to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s private residence that same month.
Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported that in an April press conference, Recall Sawant campaign manager Henry Bridger II said they did not want the recall on the November ballot. According to Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, the campaign then denied this in July.
On July 9, concerned the recall campaign may postpone until a February special election, Sawant announced her own canvassers would be tasked with collecting signatures that could potentially put her out of her job, perhaps becoming the only elected official to sign her own recall petition. For three weeks leading up to the deadline to get the recall on the ballot, Sawant’s canvassers hit the streets from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
While collecting signatures on behalf of the recall may seem like switching teams for Sawant’s canvassers, Nicholson said every signature the Kshama Solidarity campaign collected is from someone who supports Sawant.
“The first thing we ask people is, ‘Will you stand with Kshama against right-wing voter suppression?’” Nicholson said. “We are not looking to collect signatures from or do anything to mobilize people who plan to vote for the recall. We just want to talk to and mobilize our supporters, who we will need to mobilize to vote against the recall.”
As far as community feedback, Nicholson says that signatories called the strategy “creative,” “gutsy” and “ballsy.” In a press release, the recall campaign seemed less impressed, calling the Kshama Solidarity campaign’s signature gathering effort a “manipulative stunt.”
According to a spokesperson for the Kshama Solidarity campaign, Bryan Koulouris, their campaign contributed over 3,100 signatures to the recall.
As of July 30, Recall Sawant reported collecting 11,576 signatures, which alone is above the 10,739 required to get on the ballot. This threshold is 35% of the number of votes cast for all the candidates who ran for Sawant’s seat the last time she was elected to it, in 2018. However, the 11,576 signatures, as well as the Kshama Solidarity campaign’s contribution, are unverified. During a verification process, not all signatures are accepted. For example, only 52% of this year’s Charter Amendment 29’s signatures were accepted by King County Elections. According to Recall Sawant’s website, the recall campaign wants about extra 1,300-1,400 signatures to ensure they have enough after the verification process. The signatures collected by Sawant’s camp would tip the recall campaign over the high end of their goal, but as Sawant said she expected, Recall Sawant has not given any of the signatures to King County Elections.
“The Recall campaign will not be bullied by Sawant or her supporters,” said Recall Sawant’s Bridger. “With her record of ethical and legal violations, Sawant’s meddling in the signature gathering effort cannot be trusted. … When and how we submit those signatures for verification will be based on our confidence in the number of valid petitions we collect — not the whims of Councilmember Sawant.”
Recall Sawant plans to continue collecting signatures until the Oct. 19 deadline to be on the February special election ballot.
Historically, special elections have lower turnout than general elections. King County Elections reports an 87% turnout for the 2020 general election compared to 33% for the special election that same year. For odd-year elections without big national races, the difference is less significant. For example, in 2017, which had similar election conditions with the mayoral race, the general election had a 43% turnout whereas the special that year had a 40% turnout.
From the Aug. 2 rally, it is clear that the strategy, regardless of whether the recall campaign turns in the signatures they collected, is to put together a massive get-out-the-vote effort to keep Sawant in office. Supporters will remain hopeful, no matter the next moves of Recall Sawant. According to Emily McArthur, the Kshama Solidarity campaign manager, it has been a big month: She said the campaign raised $50,000 to combat voter suppression in July. One volunteer, Elan Axelbank, said the campaign saw an eightfold increase in volunteer turnout to collect signatures to force a November vote.
“People were pissed off at the voter suppression they saw taking place, but enthusiastic because in our tactic to collect signatures for the recall, they felt hope,” Axelbank said. “People are excited. The campaign has a new momentum, and we’re going to carry that forward regardless of whether [Recall Sawant] turns in the signatures or not.”
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. 11-17, 2021 issue.