Seattle and King County Voter Guide 2021

A woman at a table sorting ballots

Ballots are processed at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton on March 10, 2020. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

Ballots are processed at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton on March 10, 2020. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

How to use this guide 

If you're here, you already are or aspire to be an informed voter. Below, you'll find articles that will help you get your bearings on why these upcoming elections are important.

This guide won't tell you who to vote for, but should help you make the choice for yourself. We're a nonprofit so we don't make political endorsements of any kind. What we do is publicly driven journalism. To create this guide, we asked our readers what they want to know before voting this year. Then we asked the candidates your questions. Those answers will make up the meat of this guide. The potatoes are tips and links that will help you do things like register to vote and turn in your ballot, as well as learn about Washington's unique systems.

Crosscut adopted the Citizens Agenda style of election reporting this year, inviting our readers to take an active role in the process by telling us what they want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for their votes.

If you want to read all our election coverage, find it here. Our opinion columnists have also commented on election issues.

Jump to:

Seattle Mayor | Seattle Council 8 | Seattle Council 9 | Seattle City Attorney | Seattle ballot  items | Vote by issue | King County elections | Seattle School Board elections


 

Seattle elections

On the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission website you can find lots of information about the candidates running for city council, mayor and city attorney, including who is paying for their campaign.

What's at stake this year 

This November, Seattle voters will choose their next mayor, two city council members and the city attorney — all citywide seats. It will be the first local election since the Black Lives Matter protests last summer and voters’ first referendum on policing in Seattle

Voters in Seattle City Council District 3 will vote on a recall campaign against councilmember Kshama Sawant, but not until November. And there's also an effort underway to get the "Compassion Seattle" initiative on the Seattle ballot in November. Jump to Other Seattle ballot items to watch for more information. 

Seattle mayor 

The job: The mayor is Seattle's chief executive. They oversee and control most city offices and departments and make policy and budget recommendations to the Seattle City Council, which is Seattle's legislative body. Incumbent Jenny Durkan declined to seek reelection. 

Term: Four years

About the candidates for Seattle mayor:

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    Seattle City Council, Position 8

    The job: Position 8 on the Seattle City Council is citywide, which means all Seattle voters can make a choice in this race. The city council is Seattle's legislative body. They create the city budget and pass laws and regulations. The incumbent is Teresa Mosqueda.

    Term: Four years

    About the candidates:

    Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda is seeking her second term as a citywide representative on the Seattle City Council. Most of her opponents have raised no money, and Mosqueda is the only candidate to get any meaningful endorsements. To highlight just how light her headwinds are, The Seattle Times editorial board — no fan of Mosqueda — simply chose not to endorse anyone in the race. For Mosqueda, this means a likely second term, with strong backing from the city’s labor community. Given our small staff and much hotter contests in other areas, we won't be covering this race extensively. For more on how we pick who to cover, see Methodology, below. 

    Candidates (with links to their websites): Brian Fahey (no website found), Jordan Elizabeth FisherPaul Glumaz, Kate Martin, Teresa MosquedaKenneth Wilson

     

    Candidate responses to your questions:

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      Seattle City Council, Position 9

      The job: Position 9 on the Seattle City Council is citywide, which means all Seattle voters can make a choice in this race. The city council is Seattle's legislative body. It creates the city budget and passes laws and regulations. The incumbent, Lorena González, is running for mayor.

      Term: Four years

      About the candidates:

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        Seattle City Attorney

        The job: The city attorney, the city's top government lawyer, manages a team of more than 100 attorneys, making this office one of the largest law offices in Seattle and the third largest public law office in the state. The criminal division prosecutes misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and traffic infractions in Seattle Municipal Court. The civil division represents the city in lawsuits and advises city officials. Pete Holmes is the incumbent.

        Term: Four years

        About the candidates:

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        Other Seattle ballot items to watch: 

        Recall Sawant initiative

        The Recall Sawant initiative will not be on the primary ballot for Seattle City Council District 3 voters. The campaign is gathering signatures to get it on the Seattle general election ballot in November.

        Here's the latest from David Kroman on this recall effort and the legal challenges surrounding it.

        Here's something Knute Berger wrote about the history of recall efforts.

        And here's what the two campaigns. for the recall and against it, have to say about it.

         

        Seattle homelessness and housing Initiative

        There's an effort underway to get the "Compassion Seattle" initiative on the Seattle ballot in November. As of mid-July, petitioners did not yet have enough approved signatures to get the initiative in front of voters to require the city to spend more on homelessness and human services, and to open more housing and shelter spaces. 

        The project would require the city to spend more on homelessness and human services, and to open more housing and shelter spaces. The proposal is complicated because it involves changing the city charter, and people are heatedly debating what it would accomplish. We'll write more about this after the primary election. Meanwhile, the sponsors need more than 33,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. 

        Here's an opinion piece from Joni Balter about what impact this campaign could have on the mayoral race.

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        Vote by issue (city elections)

         


         

        Get the latest in election news

        In the weeks leading up to each election, this newsletter gives context on the races, candidates and more. 

        By subscribing, you agree to receive occasional membership emails from Crosscut/Cascade Public Media.

         


        King County elections

        The King County Elections website lists all the people running for office and a statement about why they are running. 

        What's at stake this year 

        Dow Constantine has been King County executive since 2009 and again faces Bill Hirt, who challenged him in the general election four years ago. But this time there's a new challenger who might make the race interesting: state Sen. Joe Nguyen. Here's a story Melissa Santos wrote about that match-up.

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        Seattle School Board 

        With the challenge of hiring another new superintendent ahead of them, the Seattle School Board is looking at a contest that might be a little more interesting — and important — than previously expected. The school board is also responsible for the district budget, which could be complicated because of both the pandemic and its economic fallout. Politics and parents almost also keep these volunteers on their toes.

        Here are the races we're watching:

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        Methodology

        How we choose which candidates to cover, and to what extent: 

        It’s difficult enough to accurately and fully squeeze the viewpoints of five or six people into a story. There are 15 candidates running for Seattle mayor — it's nearly impossible to cover them all equally (not least of all because Crosscut has only one dedicated Seattle politics reporter!). 

        If you feel like it's not fair, we actually feel that, too. There’s no perfect way to strike the right balance, but we do consider a few data points to help us do the best we can for voters. 

        First, money. Candidates who haven't raised a single dollar are likely not serious about running or have no shot at election. Seattle makes it relatively easy to find out how much money candidates for office are raising and spending on their campaign, including who their top contributors are. At the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission website, you can look up financial disclosures by candidate and race and also click over to the democracy vouchers page to get information about the public financing of campaigns. 

        Second, endorsements. It's difficult to quantify the power of endorsements, but they lend a certain amount of credibility. If a candidate can't get a nod of approval from a respectable labor, business, media or advocacy group, it's hard to imagine they've been sufficiently vetted for leadership.

        Third, experience. This is the squishiest category because people have lots of different kinds of experience that could help them get elected. But if someone has no record of any civic engagement or advocacy — serving on a city commission or nonprofit board, for example — that will likely lead to a more skeptical media lens. 

        Is this approach perfect? Absolutely not, and there are plenty of examples of media over- or under-estimating a candidate (see: Donald Trump). But we feel it’s the best we can do given the circumstances, with limited time and resources. Have an idea for an election story for us to look in to? Share it with us below. 

        Who is involved in this round of election reporting at Crosscut?

        News and politics editor Donna Gordon Blankinship and reporter David Kroman.

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        FAQ & Voting 101

        Want to know who's on your ballot?

        For this voter guide, we'd recommend checking out the King County elections website

        For other elections, check out the secretary of state's website. It's the best place to see who is running in races in your city or county. You can also check on the progress of ballot initiatives

        Why aren't candidates' political parties listed?

        City races are nonpartisan. That means candidates are not required to run under any party label, though they may choose to promote themselves under one. 

        How do I update my voter registration?

        Washington voters can register up to the day of the election. You can register online or through the mail by July 26. Registration forms are available in many languages, from Amharic to Vietnamese. To register online, you’ll need a current Washington state driver’s license or permit, or a state identification card. If you do not have one of those cards, you can still register by mail or in person. The state will even help you find your county elections office, which is where you will likely need to go to register and vote in person between July 26 and primary election day on Aug. 3.

        How do democracy vouchers work?

        Seattle became the first U.S. city to approve "democracy vouchers" as a way of public financing of political campaigns in 2015. Supporters say the idea democratizes political campaigns by giving regular folks money to contribute as they choose, presumably taking some power away from the rich people, companies and organizations that seem to dominate campaign finance. 

        Democracy vouchers were mailed to registered voters in Seattle in February. They’re also mailed every month between February and the election to newly registered voters. If you think you are registered to vote in Seattle and did not receive your vouchers in February, you should check your voter registration. Then, if your registration is up to date, you have the option to access the voucher system online and have the alternative to “spend” your vouchers electronically on the site. You can also mail them in or hand them directly to a candidate or campaign staffer. (The city does check the vouchers when they’re submitted, so you won’t be able to spend your vouchers twice.) A voter can spend all four $25 vouchers on one candidate or donate them to multiple candidates they support.

        Candidates who are eligible to receive vouchers are listed on the participating candidates' page. Candidates are allowed to ask for your vouchers in the same ways they might solicit other kinds of campaign contributions, including at in-person town halls or when they knock on your door during campaigning. 

        Here's a story our opinion columnist Samantha Allen wrote about this topic.

        Where else are elections taking place?

        Elections are everywhere. If you need help finding more information on the races in your area, read this story.

        For those wondering who will appear on their August primary ballot other than in King County, the best place to look is the Washington secretary of state’s website. You can search by county for city and county races. You can see what initiatives are gathering signatures to secure a place on the ballot. This search tool from the state is another way to look for people running for office. You can also go to your county elections office to learn who is running This page links to county election sites around the state.

        How do I get my ballot?

        If you are registered to vote in Washington state and your address hasn’t changed, your ballot will be mailed to you about two weeks before the election. You can make sure your registration is up to date with your current address; check in here. If you did not receive a ballot, lost it or just made a mistake while filling it out, you can print a new one at your county elections office website. If you need a voter’s pamphlet, you can look at the guide at the same place where you check the status of your ballot.

        In Washington, you do not need to request an absentee ballot, but other states have a variety of rules. This site will help you figure out how to sign up for an absentee ballot if you do not live in the state.

        How do I vote from somewhere else?

        If you are going to be in another state or another country when Washington ballots are mailed and you won't be returning until after the election, you have several options. If you are going to be staying with a friend or family member in another state, change your mailing address in VoteWA.gov to your temporary address. While you are away, you can also print a "replacement" ballot from the same website and mail it by following the directions on that document.

        The instructions for military members and overseas voters are slightly more complicated. Military members and their spouses can vote by mail, by fax or by email.

        How and when do I turn in my ballot?

        Every county has drop boxes where you can turn in your ballot. The Office of the Secretary of State keeps this list of where the boxes are located. You can drop your ballot in one of these boxes until 8 p.m. Election Day. Your ballot can also be mailed, without a stamp, and will be considered valid if it’s postmarked by Election Day.

        What about election laws and the other Washington?

        If you're curious about how this Washington and the District of Columbia intersect around election laws, read this story by Melissa Santos. Many key provisions of the federal For the People Act, which is still under consideration by Congress, are already law in Washington state, including the widespread use of mail-in voting, easily traceable paper ballots and same-day voter registration.

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