OLYMPIA — Democratic state Rep. Gael Tarleton of Seattle is preparing a 2020 challenge against Republican Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
A four-term lawmaker from the 36th District and former Port of Seattle commissioner, Tarleton is entering what could be one of next year’s hardest-fought statewide races.
Democrats have long set their sights on the Secretary of State’s Office — but voters have chosen Republicans for the office since 1964.
Among other things, the secretary of state oversees the registration of businesses, nonprofits and voters, and oversees the administration of elections.
As the threat of cyberhacking and foreign election interference hangs over 2020, voting security will be front and center in the secretary of state campaign.
National experts have considered Washington’s elections generally more secure than most other states, partly because mail-in ballots create a paper record of every vote.
Still, in 2016, Russian agents targeted election systems in all 50 states. While they were unsuccessful in penetrating Washington’s system, Wyman has focused on boosting its security.
She brought in Washington National Guard cyberspecialists to help safeguard the 2018 midterm elections — a first for the state — and partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to boost cyber security.
But in an interview, Tarleton — who was set to announce her campaign Monday — said she wants to go further, and that Wyman hasn’t done enough.
Tarleton wants to designate the Washington Military Department as an incident commander to help local and state officials respond to any major attacks on election systems, much like the agency might do with a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
And “I want to pull together an audit right now of any issues that any of our local election officials have observed,” said Tarleton, adding: “That needs to be addressed right now.”
Tarleton starts her campaign with the endorsement of Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
In a statement, Ferguson said Tarleton has “protected American democracy as a national security expert” and “We are fortunate to have a candidate for Secretary of State who is uniquely qualified to safeguard our election systems and voting rights.”
Tarleton was elected port commissioner in 2007 and 2011. She stepped down from that position after winning her House seat in 2012. Among her roles before that, Tarleton served as a defense analyst at the Pentagon. This year, she chaired the House Finance Committee, which handles tax policy.
A former Thurston County auditor, Wyman was first elected secretary of state in 2012 and reelected in 2016. She is one of the only Republicans to be elected statewide left in the Pacific time zone.
Wyman this year also led the at-times bumpy rollout of a new statewide voter database, though that system passed a major stress test with this year’s August primaries and the November general election.
The secretary of state must share a ticket next year with President Donald Trump, who has remained durably unpopular with Washington voters. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has rated the race a tossup.
But in 2016, Wyman comfortably held off a challenge from Tina Podlodowski, who has since become chair of the Washington State Democratic Party.
Campaign-finance records show that as of Friday, Wyman had raised $314,000, with about $135,000 still on hand.