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Washington Supreme Court sets timeline for appeal of recall petition against Seattle councilmember

The Washington Supreme Court will consider the appeal of a recall petition against Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant before the end of the year. Sawant filed an appeal in October after a superior court judge certified that four of the six grounds in the recall petition against her were legally sufficient to move the recall forward to the signature-gathering phase. On November 12, the Washington Supreme Court issued a timeline for the appeal: Sawant’s opening brief is due to the court by November 23, petitioners’ response is due on December 3, and Sawant’s reply is due by December 10. The court expects to rule on the appeal by January 7, 2021.

Sawant represents District 3 on the Seattle City Council. Though the office is officially nonpartisan, Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party and upon her election in 2013 was the first socialist elected to Seattle city government in 97 years. She was first elected to the council as an at-large member in 2013, when she beat four-term Democratic incumbent Richard Conlin 50.9% to 49.1%. When the council transitioned to district-based voting at the 2015 election, Sawant was re-elected to the council as the member for District 3. She won re-election to the District 3 seat in 2019 by 4.1 percentage points—51.8% to challenger Egan Orion’s 47.7%. A total of 42,956 votes were cast in the 2019 District 3 election, with Sawant receiving 22,263 votes, Orion receiving 20,488, and the remainder being cast for write-in candidates.

The recall against Sawant was initiated on August 18, 2020, when lead petitioner Ernie Lou submitted a formal recall petition to the King County Elections Office. Before a recall petition can move to the signature-gathering phase, Washington law dictates that a judicial review must find legally sufficient grounds for recall under the Washington Constitution. On September 16, King County Superior Court Judge Jim Rogers certified four of the six grounds for recall contained in the petition. Sawant subsequently appealed the decision to the Washington Supreme Court. If Sawant’s appeal is unsuccessful, petitioners would be required to gather over 10,700 signatures from registered voters to get the recall on the ballot, which equals 25% of the total votes cast in the last District 3 election held in 2019.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

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Washington State Supreme Court overrules recall petition against Seattle mayor

On October 8, 2020, the Washington State Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling which allowed a recall effort against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D).

The supreme court’s unanimous order read, “The allegations in this case are deeply troubling and our review requires that we treat the factual allegations as true. Nevertheless, after carefully considering the issues presented, the court concludes that the recall charges presented in this case are factually and legally insufficient.”

Elliott Grace, Harvey, Alan Meekins Jr., Courtney Scott, Leah Solomon, and Charlie Stone organized the recall effort.

The Washington Constitution allows for the recall of elected officials if they violate their oath of office or “in commission of some act or acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office.” To put a recall on the ballot, recall supporters have 180 days to collect valid signatures equal to 25% of the total vote for the office in the last regular election.

Organizers in the recall effort against Durkan began filing paperwork on June 15, 2020.

King County Superior Court Judge Mary Roberts ruled on July 10, 2020, that petitioners could begin gathering signatures. Roberts dismissed six of the seven charges as insufficient for a recall election. The second charge was found to be sufficient grounds for the recall effort to move forward. Recall organizers had until January 6, 2021, to gather about 54,000 valid signatures in order to put the recall election on the ballot.

The second charge of the recall petition said, “Mayor Durkan endangered the peace and safety of the community and violated her duties under RCW 35.18.200, Seattle Charter Art. V, Sec. 2, SMC 10.02.010A, and her oath to uphold US Const., Amends. 1 and 4, Washington Constitution, Art. 1 Sec. 3-5, when she failed to institute new policies and safety measures for the Seattle Police Department when using crowd control measures during a public health emergency.”

The state of Washington selects its state supreme court justices through nonpartisan elections. Of the nine members on the supreme court, five have been appointed by Democratic governors to fill vacancies on the court.

The terms of justices Raquel Montoya-Lewis, Charles W. Johnson, and Debra Stephens will expire on January 10, 2021. Additionally, Justice G. Helen Whitener was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Justice Charlie Wiggins’ retirement in March of 2020, so she will face retention election this year. The four seats are up for nonpartisan election on November 3, 2020.

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