OLYMPIA — Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman on Tuesday announced her resignation to take a key election-security position in President Joe Biden’s administration.
For the federal government, Tuesday’s announcement marks the recruitment of an administrator with depth of experience with mail voting and a rare Republican who has defended the method from both domestic critics and foreign adversaries.
For Democrats, the resignation of Wyman — the only statewide elected Republican — presents a fresh opportunity for an office that has eluded them in every election since 1964.
Former Democratic state Rep. Gael Tarleton of Seattle, Wyman’s opponent last year, signaled Tuesday she would seek an appointment to the vacancy.
Meanwhile, the state Republican Party on Tuesday swiftly called for Gov. Jay Inslee to appoint a member of the GOP to temporarily replace Wyman.
In her new role, Wyman will serve as the senior election security lead for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, according to a statement from her office. The agency is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“I am honored to be able to share nearly three decades of experience and expertise at the federal level to support CISA’s efforts to safeguard our election systems from cyberattacks and enhance the public’s confidence in our elections,” Wyman said in prepared remarks.
“As I assume this new role, I remain committed to protecting the integrity of our elections, and working closely with local and state elections officials nationwide to bolster this foundational pillar of our democracy,” she added.
Wyman’s last day as secretary of state will be Nov. 19.
A county elections administrator for a decade before she was elected secretary of state in 2012, Wyman, whose office oversees elections, has built a national profile on her work with voting and ballot security.
Last spring, Wyman used her expertise in vote-by-mail elections — Washington is one of only a handful of states with long experience in that realm — to help other states expand or adopt the practice to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 during elections.
Before and since last year’s elections, she defended mail balloting, which in Washington came about through the encouragement of moderate Republicans.
Washington’s elections system has been considered by national experts as one of the more secure for voting.
Wyman has bucked Republicans elsewhere and refused to follow former President Donald Trump in trafficking baseless conspiracy theories about last year’s election.
She pushed back against claims of fraud elsewhere, publicly criticizing the recent “audit” of votes in Arizona’s Maricopa County as “political theater.”
Wyman likewise rejected claims by Loren Culp, Washington’s 2020 Republican gubernatorial candidate. Culp had filed a legal challenge alleging fraud but dropped the lawsuit after his attorney was threatened with legal sanctions.
In a statement, CISA Director Jen Easterly wrote that Wyman’s “decades of experience, unparalleled expertise, and unimpeachable integrity have earned her bipartisan respect at every level of government.
“Kim’s deep knowledge of state and county government will strengthen our partnerships with state and local officials and enable us to expand our outreach to smaller election jurisdictions and private sector partners,” added Easterly.
Wyman is no stranger to CISA, even before Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. After that election, federal officials revealed Russia targeted election systems in more than 20 states. While hackers scanned Washington voter-registration systems for weak spots, no systems were breached.
Before that election, Wyman had begun sharing information with the federal agencies about potential threats, like the IP addresses — identifying information — of computer systems undertaking suspicious activity.
Wyman was reelected to the statewide position in 2016 and 2020.
Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, will name a temporary successor.
“We have not compiled a list yet” of potential appointees, Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee wrote in an email Tuesday morning. “Process still TBD.”
In a statement, Inslee said he would appoint a replacement in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, he congratulated Wyman, saying: “She has remained independent in the face of partisan challenges and has always done what was best for the strength of our democracy.
“She is a great fit to lead these crucial efforts at the national level and I have no doubt that her expertise, energy and focus will lead to more secure elections and help restore faith in the democratic process,” he added.
The governor’s appointee would fill the role through next November’s next general election.
The winning candidate in that election will serve out the remainder of Wyman’s term through 2024, the governor’s office has said.
Tarleton, a Seattle Democrat who lost to Wyman by about seven percentage points in the November election, said Tuesday she would seek the appointment.
“I look forward to learning about the Governor’s appointment process,” wrote Tarleton, who has also served as a Port of Seattle commissioner.
In a statement Tuesday, Washington State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich thanked Wyman for her decades of public service.
But Heimlich called the news “disappointing, as it is a real loss for the people of Washington” who had just voted Wyman back into office last year.
“I call on Gov. Inslee to listen to the will of the voters and appoint a Republican to serve as Secretary of State until a general election can occur,” added Heimlich. “A Republican has held this position since 1965 and our election system is better off because of those decades of leadership.”
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