Washington state’s loss is the nation’s gain. The departure of Secretary of State Kim Wyman to help lead national elections security is a strong hire by a Democratic president battling a vortex of searing partisanship.
Wyman, a Republican in her third term, has consistently championed elections integrity over party interests, and should prove a strong advocate for this bipartisan necessity on the national level.
Her departure for a key role in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security leaves a void in Olympia that must be filled by a public servant of similarly strong devotion to calling balls and strikes fairly. She bucked fellow Republicans in state and national attempts to undercut the legitimacy of fairly contested elections, carefully upgraded Washington’s system of mail-in voting and pushed back hard when Democratic leaders insisted every Republican was sabotaging democracy.
Elections must transcend partisanship, she often says, and has walked the talk. President Joe Biden’s administration will benefit from having a lifelong Republican defending election integrity equitably for red, blue and purple states.
Now the responsibility falls upon Gov. Jay Inslee to choose a worthy interim successor until voters elect a secretary of state in November 2022.
Because the position manages not just elections, but the state library, its corporations-registration system and its archives, the person running it must be a top-flight manager who can meaningfully oversee 300 employees with disparate responsibilities. That’s in addition to standing up to political pressure to put a thumb on the scale of elections.
In recent years, that has meant partisan nonsense from both major parties. Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp filed, then withdrew, a lawsuit claiming “voting anomalies” after losing the 2020 election by 545,000 votes. Former president Donald Trump falsely said mail-in voting was “a whole big scam.” Meanwhile, Wyman’s Democratic opponents in 2016 and 2020 launched erroneous partisan-hack attacks claiming she was complicit in undermining the voting process.
In fact, during the high-stakes 2020 pandemic election, Wyman lent advice and expertise to other states grappling with adopting mail-in voting. And she was repeatedly called upon by national media to talk about the efficacy and security of mail balloting.
Sadly, we must expect the same partisan fire to rain down on whoever occupies the office next.
Inslee must put finding an evenhanded appointee with a sturdy vertebral column first rather than simply installing a Democratic loyalist into the office that has eluded his party in every election since 1964. Appointing a prickly centrist, reaching across party lines or choosing a nonpartisan would show the governor values this office’s role for Washington even more than his own deep-blue political side. So would appointing a proven veteran of Wyman’s staff to maintain stability.
Wyman and Biden have proved that it’s still possible to find common cause across America’s chasm of partisanship in running trustworthy elections. That priority must guide Inslee’s vetting and the 2022 campaign for Wyman’s elected successor.