As the first results dropped just past 8 p.m. on election night, multiple races for Seattle City Council remained up in the air.
Experienced election observers caution that the preliminary results are only partial and that it will take until at least Friday to get a good picture of the full results. In fact, these late-counted ballots have historically come from disproportionately younger and more progressive voters, meaning that they can shift the results by double-digit margins.
The 2023 local elections are expected to be a turning point for the Seattle City Council. Four out of the seven seats up for election are open races, guaranteeing a fresh cohort of new council members. The composition of the new council is expected to reflect the new, post-Coronavirus status quo.
The career backgrounds of the new candidates are quite diverse. Some, like former Amazon exec Maren Costa, startup founder Ron Davis and cannabis entrepreneur Joy Hollingsworth, have made their mark in the business world. While others, like former deputy ARTS department director Maritza Rivera and former King County Superior Court judge Cathy Moore, opted for working in the public sector. West Seattle candidate Rob Saka is also a lawyer, while both Alex Hudson and Tanya Woo have experience working in journalism. The all-white-men races of Districts 6 and 7 featured upsetting results for the two incumbent council members, who were trailing behind a veteran and a pro-business advocate.
A major theme of the election was the lack of engagement from voters. According to King County Elections (KCE) spokesperson Halei Watkins, the agency had predicted a 45% turnout initially, but because of slow ballot returns, she wrote that it’s “looking like we’ll end up closer to 40% than 45%.” As of 8 p.m. election night, the KCE website showed 30.3% turnout in Seattle and 25.3% across King County.
This year’s turnout represents a slight decline for Seattle compared to the 2019 Seattle City Council elections. Preliminary voter turnout for younger voters mirrored this slump, with 9.4% of voters in King County aged 18 to 24 participating, compared to 45.9% of voters aged 65 and older.
In the open race for District 1, which includes West Seattle and South Park, progressive candidate Maren Costa trailed behind Rob Saka, with 40.7% of the vote compared to Saka’s 58.7%. Late ballots are expected to trend toward the left; nevertheless, Saka appears to be the odds-on favorite.
For District 2, which encompasses Southeast Seattle, challenger Tanya Woo held a small lead over incumbent City Councilmember Tammy Morales, with 54.2% of the vote compared to Morales’ 45.3%. Morales could very well close the gap with late votes; however, this underperformance is significant compared to the primary election.
In District 3, which includes neighborhoods at the geographic heart of Seattle like Capitol Hill, First Hill and the Central District, Joy Hollingsworth had a substantial lead over Alex Hudson with 58.3% of the vote, compared to Hudson’s 41.4%. The race could end up being a nail-biter as both candidates have positioned themselves as pragmatic progressives, meaning that the direction late ballots may swing the races is unpredictable.
Across the Montlake cut in District 4, Maritza Rivera held a small lead with 55.3% of the vote, compared to Davis’ 44.2%. However, Davis may still deliver an upset with left-leaning younger voters. The district has absorbed much of Seattle’s growth in neighborhoods like U-District, Roosevelt and Wallingford, expanding the youth vote significantly.
In District 5, which contains Seattle’s far north neighborhoods like Northgate and Lake City, Cathy Moore had a massive double-digit lead over her opponent, social equity consultant ChrisTiana ObeySumner. Moore won 70.1% of the vote in early results, compared to 29.5% for ObeySumner. The race is arguably Seattle’s most progressive, with both candidates positioning themselves far to the left of all four of the white male candidates in Districts 6 and 7.
Speaking of those districts, the results of the District 6 race proved too close to call, with incumbent Dan Strauss losing to Fremont Chamber of Commerce head Pete Hanning, getting 48.7% and 50.8% of the vote respectively. District 6 encompasses Magnolia, Ballard and much of Northwest Seattle and is arguably the whitest and most affluent district in the city.
The District 7 race saw a significant upset on election night, with incumbent Andrew Lewis winning only 43.8% of the vote compared to veteran Bob Kettle’s 55.8%. Kettle, the only candidate to refuse an interview from Real Change, has criticized Lewis for not being tough enough on crime in the district, which makes up much of downtown Seattle, South Lake Union and Queen Anne.
In addition to the Seattle City Council races, a number of King County races proved decisive in early election night results.
For King County Council Districts 2 and 6, incumbents Girmay Zahilay and Claudia Balducci won by default, as they ran unopposed.
Another race that was easily called was the election for KCE’s supervisor. Julie Wise, a two-term incumbent, handily prevailed with 83.2% of the vote compared to her opponent, frequent candidate and Republican Doug Basler, who got 16.5% of the vote. Basler was criticized by the Stranger Election Control Board for reportedly questioning the reliability of mail-in voting.
In the race for King County Council District 4, immigrant rights advocate Jorge Barón had a significant lead over Washington deputy attorney general Sarah Reyneveld, winning respectively 56.1% and 43.3% of the vote.
But maybe the closest race of the night was for King County District 8, with Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda winning 50.2% of the vote and Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon trailing close behind with 49.4%. If Mosqueda keeps her small lead, it could spell even more of a shake-up for the Seattle City Council, as her colleagues would then need to nominate an interim replacement to serve for Mosqueda’s last two years on the city council.
At her election night party at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Hollingsworth summed up the mood of the night.
“Vibe is great. It’s support; it’s love,” she said. “We did everything we could for this district, and hopefully the voters and the community connect with our message.”
Hollingsworth added that she wants people to feel ownership over Seattle — something that she says has been lost in recent years.
Ultimately, it’s clear that the Seattle city government is headed for significant change, regardless of if progressives or conservatives win a majority on the council. Real Change will continue coverage of the 2023 local elections as more ballots are counted in the coming days.
Read more of the Nov. 8-14, 2023 issue.