Among the many federal, state, and local offices on the ballot this upcoming primary election is the office of Washington Secretary of State. It is considered a partisan office, but should it be?
There are eight candidates on the ballot: five Democrats, including the current, recently appointed Washington Secretary of State, and two Republican legislators. Also on the ballot is a “Non-Partisan Party” candidate, the current Pierce County Auditor, pointedly running as an independent.
I ran unsuccessfully for Secretary of State in 1972 against a well-known third-term incumbent, liberal Republican A. Ludlow Kramer. At the time, voters had scant knowledge of the office of Secretary of State’s responsibilities, including overseeing elections. I remember giving a speech in Spokane to a gathering of elder Democrats who dutifully showed up to learn about the down-ballot office. Some were obviously bored, even some were snoozing. The office of Secretary of State did not excite people or energize a base of support. Now, things are very different.
The 2020 presidential election has drastically changed how Secretaries of State around the country are viewed. Some have become far more politicized – promoting Trump’s claims the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent or stolen, leading to political tactics to hi-jack the office and tilt the outcome in favor of candidates over those who were properly certified. It’s more than partisanship – it’s a threat to our democracy.
Georgia’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, has said, “Watch Out: Four Big-Lie Candidates Running for the Secretary of State.” President Trump and his MAGA allies relentlessly attacked Raffensperger, hoping to end his career (he defeated a Trump-backed candidate in the primary). In Arizona. Nevada, Colorado, and other states where the Republican primary is marked with candidates who have been engaged to flip election results. Same is true for some governors’ races, where the governor appoints the secretary of state.
These Trump-endorsed candidates are self-proclaimed election deniers, some participated in the January 6 insurrection while others signed up as alternate electors in 2020 presidential election to overturn the certification of Joe Biden as the next president. Others are being investigated and indicted yet remain as viable candidates. These MAGA types running for Secretary of State are beating the drums in battleground states. If they are elected to preside over the certification of election results, that could result in overturning the election outcomes, regardless of the accurate count of ballots. Here’s an NPR rundown of these races, including those who propose to politicize future elections.
Fortunately, Washington state has been spared this political havoc. Since 1965, the GOP has occupied the Secretary of State’s office (across the corridor from the Governor’s office). Kramer and his four successors, including the legendary Ralph Munro, have served in a non-partisan and trustworthy manner overseeing all federal, state, and local elections — well managed with the full confidence of both political parties.
Accordingly, Washington Secretary of State’s office has been a role model for other states, thanks to the recent service of Kim Wyman, who has expanded Washington’s vote-by-mail system, including fully paid postage,and installed a wide network of ballot drop boxes while maintaining strict security measures. The initiatives have led to more convenient public voting, particularly during the pandemic, and historic voter turnouts. Wyman’s accomplishments led to her being appointed by the Biden Administration to head the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), thus becoming the nation’s top election official.
Washington state can again be a role model by making this state elective office truly independent, as candidate Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson exemplifies. She also has 12 years of experience conducting elections. But it is her filing as an independent candidate that can be a precedent to making the state’s top election office truly non-partisan.