The long day waiting on Seattle's primary election returns

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Candidates had busy days in the lead-up to election returns Tuesday evening.

How Pamela Banks and Kshama Sawant are finishing out their campaigns

Update 6:55 p.m.

Things between Metropolitan Urban League President Pamela Banks and Councilmember Kshama Sawant haven't always been cordial. Be it in person, at candidate forums or via email blasts to supporters and news organizations, the high-profile District 3 candidates have traded shots over financing, motives and connection to community.

Up to today, the Sawant campaign strategy has been to drown the streets with red posters and handouts. Her ubiquitous campaign is fueled by the same force that shows up en masse to City Hall (a rent control forum a few weeks back was so heavy with Sawant supporters that critics brought a charge — quickly dismissed – that it was an illegal campaign rally).

Today, however, was a different story. Jordan Quinn of the Sawant campaign said volunteers waved some signs for a while this morning, but have pretty much spent the day preparing for tonight's campaign party."I think we worked hard enough," said Quinn. Part of that preparation, said Quinn, will be readying different remarks based on different point spreads. There was, however, a sense of confidence that Sawant would come out on top.

The Banks camp was a little more proactive, waving sign all across Capitol Hill and the Central District. They've also been using data they've gathered to loop back around to supporters, reminding them to drop their ballots. So far, the mood from the campaign is optimistic, with outreach going as they'd hoped. "For us it seems really good," said campaign manager Joanna Paul. "We’re hearing likely voters from every neighborhood. This response would put us in a very good standing."

As mentioned earlier, the new district-based system and low-turnout both bring some amount of unpredictability to tonight's primary. But to look at money and lawn signs, these two are sitting pretty.

How the District 4 candidates are spending their day

Update: 4:00 p.m. 

District 4, which runs east from Wallingford to Magnuson Park and north from the Montlake bridge through the University District to 85th, is among this year's most scrutinized races. Part of that is the feeling that sitting Councilmember Jean Godden is far from a sure thing to win her district or even to make it through today's primary. There could be blood in the water, so we in the media circle.

Godden is indeed facing stiff competition. While leftist Michael Maddux and transportation wonk Rob Johnson are seen as the most likely challengers next November, neighborhood activist Tony Provine could benefit from his outspoken opposition to some of the mayor's housing recommendations and his neighborhood-focused approach.

So what are they up to today? We asked.

Michael Maddux spent the first part of his day knocking on doors. Voters favored district elections in part because the smaller constituency could, in theory, allow candidates like Maddux to sell themselves one door at a time. The success or failure of Maddux, who has been out fundraised by Godden and Johnson at a rate of 3-to-1, could be a bellwether for whether district elections have done what voters hoped.

He has been spending most of the rest of his day on the phone, reaching out to voters. With the help of data, it's pretty commonplace for candidates to loop back to voters who have shown support and remind them to vote. He will then hop to a few different events before settling into Pazzos pizza to watch the returns.

Tony Provine's camp has been doing a lot of sign waving, first on 45th over I-5, then near Baskin Robbins in the University District. Provine is running as neighborhood activist, a strategy that could rise or fall with the new district election system. He's taken a strong stance against changes to single family zones and has had sharp words for how the city has conducted outreach in his part of town. Like Maddux, Provine has been squeezing in some last-minute doorbelling. His campaign manager Laura Bernstein said Provine will make some stops at tonight's Neighborhood Night Out events, a crime prevention push that conveniently correlates with the primaries. "We’ve knocked on a lot of doors," said Bernstein. "If all of those voters who said they will vote for Tony follow through, it could be good for Tony."

After taking his kids to school, Rob Johnson has been cruising the city, dropping off campaign literature and knocking on doors. Later, he went out to Eastlake to buy his campaign volunteers lunch. After that, Johnson will put his kids to bed and head out.

Johnson, who has hired the same consulting firm as Councilmembers Tim Burgess and Bruce Harrell and candidate Pamela Banks, is seen as more establishment, however you want to define that. He’s a close second to Godden in fundraising and seems like someone who would have done well in citywide elections. His success or failure will also help in understanding how the district based elections have played out.

Godden started her day as a City Council member, working for most of the morning. Campaign manager Annie Kucklick, meanwhile, manned the phones, using her own data to remind supporters to turn in their ballots. Eventually, Godden will also make an appearance at tonight’s Night Out events, which Kucklick feels will help Godden because it’s something she’s done before. The Godden camp will be hosting a small party tonight for volunteers in the council member’s home.

When asked about all the talk that Godden is the most vulnerable incumbent, Kucklick said it could be wearing sometimes. But more than that, she said, “I’m afraid that people will take her campaign for granted that she will be re-elected based on name recognition alone.” Kucklick said they were not counting on that and were being proactive down to the last minute.

The new district system and the low-voter turnout are the curveballs in this race. Despite what Kucklick says, Godden may indeed benefit from her name recognition. Maddux said he’s seen some low-turnout elections that favor progressives like him and others that hurt, so he really couldn’t say. And Provine’s manager Bernstein said, while she didn’t like that turnout was low, Provine's presence in the neighborhood could carry more weight if the vote ends being small.

King County voter estimates: weighing the possibility we'll have to wait till tomorrow. 

12 p.m.

As of last night, the King County elections office had received ballots from 14 percent of registered voters. According to King County's Chief Communications Officer Kim van Ekstrom, that number had risen to 17 percent this morning. Those ballots haven't been sorted by district, so no update yet on Seattle numbers. But based on trends, it would be a fair guess that Seattle returns are hovering around 19 percent this morning.

Late this afternoon, returns from the many ballot drop boxes will begin to flow in. Van Ekstrom said to expect another update around 4:30 or 5:00.

Based on what van Ekstrom called a very rough formula, derived in most part from past years, King County is predicting a 30 percent voter turnout. Van Ekstrom couldn't stress enough that this was a guess, but there are a few interesting data points nonetheless.

First, voter turnout was actually higher than the county expected in the first five days after ballots went out. But a valley followed the peak and the next week was slower than they'd anticipated. In other words, things averaged out to its normal mid-summer primary slump.

Van Ekstrom also said election day always sees the highest number of returns (mostly from ballot drop boxes) followed by the day after (thanks to last minute mailers). To calculate a guess for number of ballots in the mail today, arriving tomorrow, van Ekstrom said it's usually double the day before election day. King County received about 25,000 ballots yesterday, which means 50,000 ballots could come in tomorrow.

In a low turnout primary with 47 candidates, the late arriving ballots could easily be the difference maker in any number of races. In other words, don't be surprised if Seattle's District One, with nine candidates, has an inconclusive night.


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About the Authors & Contributors

David Kroman

David Kroman

David Kroman is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where he covered city politics.