Incumbent Kim Wyman and Rep. Gael Tarleton were leading in the race for Washington’s secretary of state after initial results from Tuesday night’s primary election returns. Wyman, a Republican, had more than 50% of the initial vote count and Tarleton, a Democrat, had garnered nearly 45%.
The Secretary of State’s Office is responsible for registering voters and overseeing Washington state’s elections. The office also registers businesses and nonprofits and manages the state archives and library. After lieutenant governor, the position is next in the line of succession for the governorship.
The statewide office has been the subject of attention recently as President Donald Trump seeks to discredit mail-in voting (the Washington Legislature instituted statewide vote-by-mail in 2011), as foreign actors seek to influence or tamper with election results and as the COVID-19 disrupts voting processes nationwide.
Wyman, who has served in the statewide office since her election in 2012, has been a vocal proponent of vote-by-mail and has worked to tighten election security. Russian hackers in 2016 targeted each state’s voting systems, according to a bipartisan U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report.
Washington’s voting system is considered safer than most because it has relied on mail-in ballots — paper that can be recounted — and not exclusively software to tally votes.
Tarleton says Wyman hasn’t done enough to ensure Washington is protected against election interference, and has been critical after issues arose during the state’s rollout of VoteWA, the state’s new voter registration system.
If elected, Tarleton said she would conduct an audit of the system. She also seeks to boost voter registration.
The candidates on Tuesday night both issued statements that made clear national politics will feature heavily as they campaign heading into the general election.
Tarleton said she faced “hard” months heading into November’s election against Wyman, a two-term incumbent, adding that she expects Wyman to receive strong financial support from state and national Republicans.
Tarleton’s statement sought to tie Wyman to Trump and her other “Republican colleagues” who Tarleton says are trying to make it more difficult for eligible voters to cast ballots.
“Make no mistake—she has this support because she has been silent, refusing to stand up for Washington while Donald Trump has undermined faith in our state’s election system and led an assault on voting rights throughout the country,” Tarleton said.
Wyman, meanwhile, touted her leadership on voting by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic even as “some in her party attack mail voting.” The statement did not refer to the president by name.
“I am incredibly humbled by the support and response from voters tonight,” Wyman said. “With our state’s accessible and secure elections system, voters were able to safely cast their votes while on the verge of shattering our 2016 turnout in the process. Washington’s elections lead the rest of the country in accessibility and security and that is what I will be celebrating tonight.”