In what has become a nail-biter Seattle City Council race, Socialist candidate Kshama Sawant pulled ahead of four-term councilmember Richard Conlin by a margin of 41 votes in results released by King County Elections on Tuesday afternoon.
With nearly 160,000 ballots counted overall in the race, Sawant's 49.91 percent of the vote gives here a miniscule edge over Conlin's 49.88 percent. Tuesday's results were the first time during the ongoing vote count that Sawant has taken the lead in the race. Throughout last week and on Tuesday, late-arriving ballots have consistently gone Sawant's way, steadily erasing Conlin’s 7.5 percentage point election night advantage.
“The systematic trend we’ve seen since Election Day in favor of our campaign confirms our ideas that Seattle has become a really unaffordable city,” Sawant told reporters and a crowd of about 20 supporters, who'd gathered at her campaign office to await the results.
Conlin did not return calls for comment on Tuesday and his campaign manager referred to a statement posted earlier on his Facebook page.
“This is a very close election,” the statement said. “We’ve asked our supporters to verify the status of their ballots with King County Elections, and we are currently waiting on further results from the County as they process and count the ballots they have on hand.”
Conlin has served on the council since 1997 and said last week that if he wins another term, he will retire when it ends in 2015.
Sawant, an economics instructor at Seattle University, is running for her first public office. If elected, she has said her top three priorities would be raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2014, establishing rent price controls and implementing a “millionaires tax.”
Asked Tuesday if there were any council committees she would like to serve on, she said: “We haven’t thought about which committee we’re going to belong to.”
“Every committee is dominated by corporate interests,” she added, “and the committee’s agenda is geared towards making sure that all the corporate subsidies are in place and expanded.”
While the vote numbers in the race could change up until Nov. 26 — the date when King County Elections will need to certify this year’s results — almost every new ballot count released since Election Day has favored Sawant.
By Tuesday afternoon, a crew of about 290 King County Elections employees had counted-in 486,513 of the roughly 558,000 ballots submitted by countywide voters.
King County Elections has already sent notices to voters who either forgot to sign their ballot or signed with a signature that has come under question. These voters have until Nov. 25 to sign and return a form to King County that will re-qualify their ballot and allow it to be counted.
Sawant’s campaign has been sending volunteers door-to-door since last Saturday to find supporters whose ballots were disqualified because of signature problems. Conlin’s camp, meanwhile, sent out an email directing backers to a King County Elections webpage, where they could check that their ballot had been verified and counted. The email also included a request for phone-bank volunteers who could call supporters with problematic ballots.
If the margin of votes separating the two candidates doesn't widen substantially, the race will be headed toward a recount. State law requires machine recounts in elections decided by less than 2,000 votes and less than one-half of 1 percent of the total votes cast. Hand recounts are required in contests where the difference in votes is less than 150 and under one-quarter of 1 percent. For a fee, campaigns can also request recounts. The cost is 15 cents per ballot if the recount is done using machines and 25 cents per ballot if it is done manually.
Philip Locker, Sawant’s political director, has said Seattle’s archivist reviewed records that dated back to 1910 and could not find any Socialist candidate elected to the City Council. Sawant said Tuesday, “What we have shown here is our socialist ideas, far from being fringe ideas, are exactly what people are looking for.”