Sawant takes the lead over Orion in race for Seattle City Council District 3

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SEATTLE -- Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant increased her lead over challenger Egan Orion on Friday evening in the closely watched race for District 3.

Sawant had a 1,515-vote lead after the latest ballot count was released Friday evening.  She now has about 52 percent of the vote.

Sawant held onto her lead after coming out ahead by over 500 votes during the first vote update Friday afternoon. It marked the first time since vote counting started that she took the lead over Orion, who led by an 8-point margin in early voting results.

King County is still counting ballots and plans to update results again on Tuesday, Nov. 12.

County election officials estimated 95 percent of all general ballots would be counted by Friday night. Officials said in narrow races, like in Seattle City Council District 3, it still could be too close to call.

Kendall Hodson, King County Elections chief of staff,  said at the start of Friday, approximately 13,000 ballots needed to be counted in the race between Sawant and Orion.

Hodson said the county's goal was to have at least 11,000 of those ballots done by Friday night.

“I think we’ll hopefully have a lot of clarity after tonight’s results except for those exceptionally close races. And for those really close races, if they’re still not clear, we’re going to see probably a lot of campaigns out trying to get signature challenges resolved,” said Hodson.

She explained signature challenges weren’t usually a factor in local elections. However, when races are so close, like the one in District 3, every vote matters.

King County Elections had a staff sort through all signature challenge ballots to let voters know they had a chance to fix it.

“It could be either if they forgot to sign the back of their ballot. Or it could be that their signature does not match the one we have on file for them. Typically, that signature was one that they signed at the department of licensing when they got their license or on a voter registration form,” said Hodson.

As of Friday morning, Hodson said there were about 300 ballots in District 3 with a signature challenge. She said the number could increase as the county finished counting votes. Hodson explained all election results will be certified on Nov. 26.

“So, voters have until that Monday before, Nov. 25, to resolve their signature issue with us. So, we’ve got a lot of time still to process those ballots and get those votes counted,” said Hodson.

During her election night party Tuesday, Sawant said her campaign would keep fighting until every ballot was counted.

“My friends, we as working-class people, we have always had to fight hard so we are going to have to continue to fight hard and make sure that every ballot of otherwise disenfranchised people is counted are we ready to do that,” Sawant said to her supporters.

On election night in 2013, Sawant trailed her opponent by a similar margin when the early results were announced. She later came back and won the race after dropbox and mail-in ballots were all counted.

This was Orion’s first time running for political office, and he was endorsed by an Amazon backed PAC. The group dumped a record $1.4 million into local city council races, Orion being the biggest beneficiary of that money.

“[Sawant] is least effective council member on the council today,” said Orion. “She is more interested in her national movement than she is interested in the day to day lives of people in District 3. I totally respect the values she stands for. I share a lot of those values. But ultimately, when you’re traveling around, doing fundraisers in the northeast or in Europe, which she does a lot.”

As more people began to ask for clarification about the threshold of a recount, Hodson described the rules as such:

  • Mandatory machine recount must be less than 2,000 votes AND also less than 1/2 of 1% of the total number of votes cast for both candidates.
  • Mandatory hand recount must be less than 150 votes AND also less than 1/4 of 1% of the total number of votes cast for both candidates.
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