Voters made the right call in returning veteran elections official Kim Wyman to the Secretary of State’s office. The majority of voters were not persuaded by her challenger’s partisan claims.
But Wyman’s victory won’t prevent future candidates from cynically attempting to inject party-line rhetoric into the race for this important administrative position. To protect future Secretary of State elections from political gamesmanship, Washington lawmakers should vote to make the office nonpartisan. That will encourage voters to evaluate candidates’ ideas and credentials, not base decisions on whether their name is followed by a “D” or an “R.”
Wyman, elected as a Republican, has publicly advocated for such a change. A Secretary of State’s Office spokeswoman confirmed that it will be in the office’s legislative request package for the 2021 session. Legislators should follow through.
Especially in a state famous for close elections, the chief election official must act — and be seen to act — fairly and impartially. Imagine what might have happened if an overt partisan had been in office during the 2004 squeaker between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire, instead of the irreproachable former Secretary Sam Reed.
Although Evergreen State voters have a history of choosing neutral and professional chief elections officials like Wyman, and Reed before her, recent challengers have leaned heavily on partisan posturing in attempt to gain the position.
Wyman’s challenger, Democrat Gael Tarleton, of Seattle, tried incessantly to tie Wyman to vote-by-mail conspiracists like outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump. In fact, Wyman steadfastly fought to dispel rumors and mistruths about mail-in voting, not only here in Washington but nationally.
Such tactics mislead voters and distract from substantive discussions about the Secretary of State’s true role as guardian of the state’s elections system. Other duties of the office, such as supervising the State Archives, barely get a nod.
A nonpartisan Secretary of State is the next logical step in the state’s proud history of putting voters’ interest above political parties, including the top-two primary.
Secretaries of state are administrators, not policymakers. Much less should they be party operatives trying to put a thumb on the scale for their political allies. A nonpartisan office would help protect against the pernicious idea that has taken hold in some other states that elections should be won at any cost.