Chasing Ballots

With Lisa Herbold taking the lead in West Seattle’s District 1 on Friday—a lead she holds by just 27 votes—the November 3 election is far from over. Although there are over 300 ballots that remain uncounted in the district—the next vote drop, tomorrow around 4:30, could solidify Herbold’s advantage or put Braddock back in the lead—a parallel and equally important ballot-gathering effort is going on behind the scenes in both campaigns.

Known as “ballot chasing,” the campaign-led effort involves finding challenged ballots that are likely to favor a particular candidate and making sure those voters get their ballots counted.

Here’s how it works. Ordinarily, King County Elections initially rejects, or “challenges,” a ballot if the signature doesn’t match the one on file at the elections office, or if a voter fails to sign his or her ballot. At that point, Elections sends the voter a letter and asks them to remedy the problem. Many people just ignore or never get around to filling out the response form, and those ballots are never counted.

That’s no big deal in races where the margin is wide, but in close races like that in District 1, literally every ballot counts. Ballot chasers match up the list of voters whose ballots were challenged with voters who are likely to vote for their candidate, based on demographics, past voting history (did they vote in previous council races, or stick to just the top of the ballot?) and doorbelling records from the campaign. Interestingly, because the election is technically over, spending limits and rules barring coordination between independent expenditure groups and campaigns no longer apply, giving rise to efforts by outside groups that support campaigns to do all they can to pitch in.

And to emails like this one, from the director of the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), the political arm of the Seattle Chamber (bolds mine):

Good afternoon,

This weekend is make or break for Shannon Braddock’s campaign for Seattle City Council. With so few votes between candidates in District 1, the campaign with the strongest ballot chasing effort is expected to win this election.

Shannon is in urgent need of volunteers.

Please consider stepping up to volunteer this weekend and recruit your friends. A script and instructions will be provided for you to contact likely Shannon supporters whose ballots have been invalidated by the county.

[…] This is the homestretch! Let’s make it count.


[Mark] Markham


Ironically, perhaps, Braddock herself sent an email to her supporters last week expressing indignation that council member Kshama Sawant had called “on her supporters to intervene in our election process in favor of Lisa Herbold.” In fact—as the Herbold campaign pointed out in its own response email to supporters—the letter in question from Sawant is mostly focused on District 2 candidate Tammy Morales, who is trailing council incumbent Bruce Harrell by 357 votes, though it does urge Sawant’s supporters to  help “defeat the developer-approved candidate in District 1, Shannon Braddock.” In her email, Herbold said that although “help offered is appreciated,” the campaign told Sawant, “like we’ve told others, that we have a strategy to win this race. Our team continues to work to implement our strategy for our district.

An automatic recount is triggered if two candidates are separated by 0.5 percent or less of the total vote in their race.