The Secretary of State is Washington’s chief elections officer, responsible for supervising state and local elections, certifying results, and producing the state voters guide. The position in recent years has required efforts to encourage voter registration and turnout, adopt new technologies and policies to support those efforts and bolster the security of voting infrastructure and practices.
Washington is one of five states where all voting is done by mail-in ballots. Currently, more than 4.63 million state residents are registered to vote, up more than 270,000 voters since the 2018 midterm election.
The office also is responsible for registering and licensing corporations, partnerships and trademarks; collects and preserves the state’s historical records and makes them available for research; serves as chairman of the state Productivity Board; and administers the address confidentiality program for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
Kim Wyman, a Republican, has served as secretary of state since 2013, winning election twice. Prior to her state post, Wyman served 12 years as Thurston County auditor and before that was that county’s elections manager for eight years. Wyman has a master’s degree in public administration.
In the Nov. 3 general election, Wyman is challenged by state Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle, who represents the 36th Legislative District. Tarleton won election to the state House in 2012 and re-election three times after that. Prior to her legislative service, Tarleton won two terms to the Port of Seattle Commission, serving five years. She also worked as the University of Washington College of Arts and Science’s first director of Corporate and Foundation Relations. Tarleton also has worked as a defense intelligence analyst at the Pentagon.
Both candidates speak convincingly of their commitment to issues of election security and encouragement of voter registration and participation, statements that are important in building public trust in election systems that have been attacked by foreign hackers and have had to address confusion and doubt caused by misinformation, some of it from President Trump.
In a recent joint interview with the Everett Herald’s editorial board, Tarleton focused her criticisms of Wyman for, she said, opposing legislation to establish voter pre-registration for 17-year-olds, election day voter registration and an Obama-era push to classify states’ election systems as critical infrastructure. Wyman explained that on each she was expressing concerns with the legislation as first written. Regarding the classification of election systems, Wyman said she had concerns the move could jeopardize state authority over elections. On the others, both passed the Legislature and her office has promoted both programs.
Wyman has overseen a range of programs to reform and update the state’s registration and election system, including the update of the statewide database — VoteWA — that have allowed roll out of registration and other improvements while safeguarding election security.
Washington was among 18 states that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report found had been subject to attempts by the Russian government to hack into its election systems in 2016.
At the time, Wyman’s office said the hacking attempts were detected by the state’s election security defenses, which blocked traffic from the IP addresses responsible, and reported those attacks to the FBI; no voter registration data was compromised. Nor were any election results jeopardized in the 2016 attack; county tabulation machines, for example, are “air-gapped” and not connected to the internet, and the state’s mail-in ballots provide a paper record of every vote.
Even though those cyberattacks were successfully foiled, Wyman and Tarleton both expressed the need for vigilance, that the state must continue to anticipate and prepare for renewed attacks during future elections. Wyman has worked with federal partners and the state National Guard, whose cybersecurity experts have tested state systems in mock attacks.
Both candidates have not been shy about criticizing President Trump over his recent unsubstantiated accusations of potential vote rigging among those states allowing expanded use of mail-in ballots. Wyman, in particular, has contradicted the president and been a defender of the state’s mail-in system and of vote-by-mail in general; Wyman and her office were in high demand for advice among fellow U.S. election officials, advising all 50 states on vote-by-mail issues, she told The New York Times in April. Even while encouraging vote-by-mail, Wyman has urged states move forward with caution to protect election security and accuracy.
Wyman’s willingness to criticize Trump speaks to her respect for the job of secretary of state and its responsibility to protect the state’s elections and promote public confidence in them. It also suggests that the state consider making the position nonpartisan. Tarleton said she would support that move if there’s public backing; Wyman said she would encourage legislation to make that change.
There are several state posts where party affiliation would not seem necessary, but regarding the secretary of state, a nonpartisan designation now seems to be an absolute necessity for an office where public trust is key.
Wyman, during her two terms, has helped build that trust in our elections and deserves a third term.