Seattle City Council races feature recent election law changes, interest from Amazon

Seattle’s nonpartisan primary elections on August 6 include four open-seat city council races and three council incumbents facing challengers. As of July 8, there were 55 candidates running across the seven races.
This is the second city council election in which members will be elected by district and have the option to participate in a public campaign financing program involving voter vouchers. The election has also seen endorsements and satellite spending from a political action committee (PAC) that has received contributions from Amazon following conflict between the company and the city council in 2018.
In 2015, Seattle voters elected council members by district for the first time in more than 100 years. Two council seats that remain elected at-large held elections in 2017.
Also in 2015, Seattle voters approved an initiative to provide for public campaign financing through voter vouchers. The program was first implemented in the 2017 elections. In February this year, eligible residents received four $25 vouchers each, which they could distribute among council candidates of their choosing. As of July 2, 42 candidates were participating in the program, and $1.2 million had been distributed among 32 candidates.
The 2019 election takes place a year following conflict between the city council on one hand and Amazon and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce on the other. The chamber’s PAC received $200,000 from Amazon in March and has endorsed and spent money in support of nine candidates in the races, including challengers of District 1 and 3 incumbents Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant.
In 2018, the city council unanimously passed a head tax proposal that would have required businesses grossing at least $20 million to pay $275 per employee in order to fund affordable housing programs for the homeless. The proposal faced criticism from Amazon and the Chamber of Commerce. One month after its passage, seven of nine council members voted to repeal the tax, including Herbold, who was one of the proposal’s original sponsors. Sawant voted against the repeal.
Following the August 6 primary election, the top two finishers in each race will advance to the November 5 general election.