Last month we shared an overview of Juneteenth with a timeline of major events from the Civil War to present, and a post on two interrelated systems that propagate racism: voter suppression and mass incarceration. We encourage you to honor Juneteenth and the people that have fought for equal freedom, rights, and enfranchisement by exercising your right to vote during the 2021 election. Many of the offices and issues on the ballot this year will have long-term impact on the people of Washington state and will directly affect the criminal legal system.
This year, the Seattle mayor and city attorney, the King County executive and the Tacoma mayor will be elected. Seattle City Council, King County Council, Tacoma City Council, and Olympia City Council seats are also up for election. Three of seven seats on the Seattle Public School Board are in play. In the courts, Court of Appeals judges as well as a King County Superior Court judge will be elected.
Elections in odd-numbered years, also called “off-year elections,” see important local contests for statewide, county, and city-level offices and measures. Historically, elections in odd-numbered years see less participation than even years in Washington state. Voter turnout in even years has averaged 73.58% since 2010. Odd years have averaged 44.98% voter turnout since 2009. Lower participation in odd years belies the importance and impact of local elections. Matthew Gross writes in The Harvard Political Review, “The stakes of local elections might not be as widely reflected in the media as they are about the Presidential Election, but local elections have real consequences.” The election in Washington state on November 2, 2021, is no exception. This year’s offices and seats will have wide-reaching impacts on day-to-day life in Washington.
Learn about what you’ll see on the ballot this year and make a plan to vote. Here is more information about the important offices up for election, with an emphasis on those that legislate on, manage, or influence the criminal legal system.
Seattle employs a “strong Mayor” and city council system. The mayor is the city’s chief executive, while the city council serves as the city’s primary legislative body.
In addition to other responsibilities, the Seattle Mayor:
- May appoint and remove department heads
- Exercises oversight of the city’s day-to-day operations
- Enforces city laws and ordinances
- Possesses veto or line-item veto power
Mayor Jenny Durkan has announced she is not running for another term, so a new Seattle mayor will be elected on November 2, 2021 with the ability to impact issues on affordability, equity, safety and mobility for the city.
Seattle City Council
As the city’s primary legislative body, the council establishes city policy through enactment of laws and adoption of resolutions. The drafting of city legislation typically begins with committees. The Public Safety & Human Services committee provides policy direction and oversight relating to issues including the criminal legal system, law enforcement, and police accountability. One of the two members up for election this year is the Council President and vice-chair of this committee.
Seattle City Attorney
The Office of the Seattle City Attorney is one of the largest law offices in Seattle, with more than 100 attorneys. It is composed of three divisions: the Criminal Division, the Civil Division and the Administrative Division.
According to the Seattle City Attorney website, “The Criminal Division prosecutes misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and traffic infractions in Seattle Municipal Court. The types of cases prosecuted by the Criminal Division include driving under the influence (DUI), misdemeanor assault, misdemeanor domestic violence, misdemeanor theft, and trespassing.”
This division also has responsibility to develop policies relating to the management of the criminal legal system including jail administration, sentencing guidelines, diversion programs, and municipal court procedures.
Pete Holmes, the current City Attorney, conceded the primary election after running for a fourth term, The race is now in between two new candidates with opposing viewpoints.
King County Executive
The county executive is the chief executive officer of the county. Among other responsibilities, the executive acts as the chief peace officer of the county, executing and enforcing all ordinances and state statutes within the county.
An initiative passed in 2020 makes King County the only county in the state and one of the few across the country to appoint the sheriff. The King County Executive elected this year will appoint the King County Sheriff for approval by the County Council.
King County Council
As the legislative branch of county government, the Council sets policies, enacts laws, and adopts budgets that guide an array of services, including:
- The criminal legal system of prosecutors and public defenders, District and Superior Courts, juvenile detention, and adult jails
- The King County Sheriff’s Office, which directly serves residents of unincorporated areas and contracts with many cities to provide police protection
- Public health and human services
- Elections, records, and licensing
The council largely functions through the work of its standing and regional committees. One of the standing committees focuses on “Law & Justice” and makes recommendations on policy impacting the criminal legal system including:
- bail reform
- pretrial services
- alternatives to incarceration
- prosecuting attorney
- public defense
- civil rights
Five of ten seats on the King County Council are up for election this year. Three of the members running comprise half of the current Law & Justice committee.
Tacoma employs a Council-Manager system. In addition to speaking for both the government and community of Tacoma, the mayor is the presiding officer and regular member of the City Council.
Incumbent Victoria Woodards is running for re-election. Prior to her election to Mayor in 2018, she served for seven years as an at-large member of the City Council.
Tacoma City Council
In addition to the mayor’s seat on the council, two other seats are up for election this year. All members serve 4 year terms. Tacoma County Council responsibilities include enacting and amending City laws, appointing citizen boards, committees and commissions, and providing guidance and direction on actions impacting quality of life in the City.
Olympia City Council
In Olympia, the mayor is elected to Position 1 on the city council. The mayor and the council have equal voting authority. Five of the seven seats on the Olympia City Council are up for election this year.
This November there are key offices up for election and issues facing voters that will affect everyone in Washington state. Offices responsible for legislating on bail reform, public defenders and alternatives to jail; appointing the King County Sheriff; or ruling on bail and sentencing, will directly impact people accused of a crime. As Gross writes, “There is no trade-off between learning about federal elections and local elections, and, as such, people should take the time to become informed about their local elections. Local elections have important consequences and voters should not dismiss them.”
Your vote makes a difference, especially in local elections. Big decisions are being made in our state this year and we encourage you to exercise your right to vote and make your voice heard.
Make a plan to vote in the primary on August 3 and the general election on November 2, 2021. Here are some resources to make sure you’re registered:
King County Elections: Register to Vote
Pierce County Elections: Register to Vote
Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness: Register to Vote
Washington Secretary of State: Felons and Voting Rights
Last updated: August 24, 2021
Featured Image credit: https://www.seattlemet.com/news-and-city-life/2020/10/how-many-people-have-turned-in-ballots-already-in-king-county-washington