iliana etaoin

So, you want to recall the mayor of Seattle?

I’m not a lawyer; this is not legal advice.

Recalling the mayor of Seattle right now would be… very difficult. It’s certainly not the best method we currently have of removing Jenny Durkan from office. Here’s why.

Laws on the recalls of elected public officials in the state of Washington are covered in Chapter 29A.56 of the RCW, sections 110–270. These laws walk us through the process, which is very similar to the general ballot initiative process.

First, you need to file a petition making a clear charge against the official:

Whenever any legal voter of the state or of any political subdivision thereof … desires to demand the recall and discharge of any elective public officer of the state or of such political subdivision … the voter shall prepare a typewritten charge, reciting that such officer, naming him or her and giving the title of the office, has committed an act or acts of malfeasance, or an act or acts of misfeasance while in office, or has violated the oath of office, or has been guilty of any two or more of the acts specified in the Constitution as grounds for recall. (RCW 29A.56.110)

In this case, you’d file the petition with King County Elections. § 130 requires KCE to promptly serve a copy of the charge to the officer (and, as far as I can tell, nothing precludes the officer taking legal action for alleged defamation).

KCE would also formulate a ballot synopsis of the charge. In Washington, ballot synopses are required to be relatively short. If the recall makes it to a ballot, the full charge and the official’s response (§ 220) would be printed in a voter guide mailed to voters and available online.

When the ballot synposis is formulated, the charge and the synopsis are sent to the superior court. I believe this means the King County Superior Court.

Within fifteen days after receiving the petition, the superior court shall have conducted a hearing on and shall have determined, without cost to any party,

  1. whether or not the acts stated in the charge satisfy the criteria for which a recall petition may be filed, and
  2. the adequacy of the ballot synopsis.

… The court shall not consider the truth of the charges, but only their sufficiency. (RCW 29A.56.140)

All courts in King County are operating under different rules due to COVID-19, so it’s possible that the fifteen days end up being longer.

Assuming everything goes well, and you win a possible appeal, you now have a 180-day window (§ 150) to collect 54,424 signatures of registered voters who live in Seattle. The signature threshold, set in § 180, is 25% the total number of votes cast for all candidates in the election the official won.

An online petition isn’t going to work. You need to get signatures, in ink, on at least 11”×14” paper, printed with the particular language specified in § 170, and you have to somehow collect signatures of 11.7% of the registered voter population of Seattle during a global pandemic. And just to be sure, you’ll want to get well over the required number of signatures to account for rejected signatures during canvassing — there’s no chance to get more signatures once you’ve filed them.

This is not completely unheard of: I-1715 is collecting signatures now and is mailing petition sheets to voters upon request. But this costs postage both ways as well as extra printing, because you can only expect to get a few signatures per sheet.

Assuming everything above goes well, now you have an election to win in 45 to 90 days. For everything above to go well, you need to have a well-organized campaign.

Impeachment by city council and/or revolution are probably faster, more effective routes.