November 2nd was election day in Seattle. Since it’s not a presidential election year, or even a midterm election year, and the vast majority of the Northwest School students aren’t eligible to vote, many think of these local races as an afterthought, but they affect the city of Seattle and the localized issues you care about much more than the frustratingly low voter turnout would suggest.
This year, state election officials predict that only 40% of registered voters cast a ballot, less than half of the 84% voter turnout in last year’s general election. Political participation is essential for a functioning government that represents its constituents, but year after year, voters have been slow to turn out to the polls during odd years following presidential elections. Over the past twenty years, the average voter turnout is just over 46%, with it rising to a high of 54% in 2005, and a low of 37% in 2017. A bundle of seats and positions were up for grabs this year, including mayor of Seattle, which will drastically change the trajectory of our city for many years to come.
Arguably, the largest decision voters had to make this year was for the mayor of Seattle. Since Mayor Jenny Durkan didn’t run for reelection, there were two new candidates vying for the position. Though both are Democrats and have served on the City Council, they offered two very different plans for the future of Seattle. Bruce Harrell, serving on the Seattle City Council for three terms, ran as the moderate in this race, pledging to act against homelessness in the city by removing encampments from streets and parks and boost funding to the Seattle Police Department to ensure better training for police officers. Additionally, he is a proponent of the government asking private businesses for help on issues and for financial support. On the other hand, his opponent Lorena González is much more progressive on key issues for Seattle. She supports alternatives to law enforcement, including scaling up the community service officer program. While at the City Council last year, she supported defunding the Seattle Police Department budget by 20%. On the issue of homelessness, she believes that encampments shouldn’t be removed unless they’re on private property. Bruce Harrell ended up winning this race by 19 points and will assume office on the first day of 2022.
While the mayoral race might have gotten many of the limited headlines on this year’s election, there were many other hard-fought races throughout the city that are worth mentioning. In the race for Seattle City Attorney, where the winner will serve as chief legal advisor, litigator and municipal prosecutor for the city in addition to being head of Seattle’s law department, the lone Republican Ann Davidson was elected in a tight race by 4 points, beating out her opponent Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, running a campaign centered around the abolition of police and prisons.
Another fascinating race was for Seattle Council Seat 8, not because of the grand importance of this one seat, but because of the candidate running. Though Kenneth Wilson lost by over 20 points, the civil engineer took up a unique position on the West Seattle Bridge, saying that we can open the bridge from repairs after cracking was shown to have formed on the deck.
Believe it or not, election season is still not over for many voters in Seattle. On December 7th, voters in District 3, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Madison Park, Madrona, Capitol Hill, Central District and Leschi, will have the choice to recall city councilwoman Kshama Sawant. According to the Recall Sawant website, her violations of law include misuse of city funds when promoting a ballot incentive, admitting hundreds of individuals into City Hall after hours, and leading protesters to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s house, whose location is supposed to be confidential. Contrarily, the Kshama Solidarity Campaign accuses the recall effort of being a right-wing, undemocratic attack by using voter suppression tactics by delaying the special election to December instead of it being on the ballot the previous month.
No matter your party affiliation, voting is a cornerstone of our democracy that represents the people, but frustratingly people often don’t seem interested in voting. As shown by the numerous fascinating races on the ballot, this year’s election cycle was far from an afterthought for the future of Seattle and could even have a larger impact on your day-to-day life than any presidential election. While Northwest School students aren’t of voting age yet, it’s never too early to understand the importance of local elections in our city.