By The Herald Editorial Board
All the speculation after Joe Biden won the 2020 election for presidency was that his administration might poach newly re-elected Gov. Jay Inslee for a post related to climate change or the environment, despite Inslee’s insistence that he intended to stay.
Those jobs went to others, of course, but that didn’t mean the Biden White House wasn’t looking among other of Washington state voters’ choices for the state’s top officials.
Last week, Washington’s secretary of state, Kim Wyman, the state’s chief elections official, was hired to serve as the nation’s senior election security lead for the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
Wyman, 59, announced her resignation, effective Nov. 19.
What Wyman has accomplished in Washington state — and why she had been elected three times in a state where all other statewide officials are Democrats — she can now apply to elections nationwide.
“Kim’s reputation is second to none and I am personally thrilled to have her lead CISA’s election security efforts,” CISA director Jen Easterly said in a statement last week. “Free and fair elections are a cornerstone of our democracy; Kim and I share a common view that ensuring the security of our elections must be a nonpartisan effort.”
That Wyman caught the Biden administration’s attention is no surprise.
Wyman, during her tenure, has overseen a range of programs to reform and update the state’s voter registration and election systems, including the update of the statewide database — VoteWA — that has allowed the roll-out of voter registration and other improvements while safeguarding election security.
Washington was among 18 states that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report found had been subject to attempts by the Russian government to hack into its election systems in 2016. But those hacking attempts were detected by the state’s election security defenses, successfully blocked, then reported to the FBI. No voter registration data was compromised. Nor were any election results jeopardized in the 2016 attack.
More recently, in the run-up to the 2020 election amid the pandemic, Wyman and her office were in high demand for guidance among fellow U.S. election officials, advising all 50 states on vote-by-mail and related issues, drawing on Washington state’s long experience with mail-in ballot elections. Even while encouraging vote-by-mail, Wyman urged that states move forward with care to protect election security and accuracy.
Wyman has also proved a commitment to conducting her work in a nonpartisan manner; not shying from her Republican Party affiliation, but also not afraid to criticize the actions of fellow Republicans, President Trump in particular.
Following the election, Wyman defended the election from baseless attacks at both the state and national level of alleged widespread voter and election fraud and claims from Trump and others — claims that persist without evidence and have failed in scores of court challenges — that the election was “stolen.”
In May, Wyman criticized a third-party audit of ballots and election equipment in Arizona by a cybersecurity contractor — Cyber Ninjas, which had no previous experience in auditing election systems — regarding its procedures, lack of transparency and purpose.
“I’m very concerned this has ramifications for every state in the country,” Wyman told The Washington Post, at the time. “This is politicizing an administrative process with no real structure or laws or rules in place to guide how it goes.”
The challenge now is in appointing a temporary successor who can lead the state office with the same integrity, independence and nonpartisan stature.
Inslee is expected in coming weeks to appoint a replacement, who will serve until November 2022, when voters will elect someone to complete the four-year term.
Inslee — to honor the nonpartisan standard upheld by Wyman and past secretaries of state Sam Reed and Ralph Munro — should put a premium on past experience and a commitment to the fairness, security and accuracy of the state’s elections.
Several names already have been suggested, among them current county auditors or election supervisors — who are responsible for elections at the county level — including Thurston County’s Mary Hall, Pierce County’s Julie Anderson and King County’s Julie Wise, all three discussed as possibilities in a recent Crosscut article. Also mentioned were Gael Tarleton, the Democratic candidate for the office in 2020 and a former state lawmaker and cybersecurity defense intelligence analyst at the Pentagon, and — of interest to Snohomish County residents — state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who while lacking experience in overseeing elections has proved his credentials in seeking bipartisan agreements as a state lawmaker.
Although suggested by state Republicans that he do so to carry on the tradition of Republicans who had held the office since 1965, Inslee is not obligated to appoint another Republican to succeed Wyman. The governor is correct that the office — and no state office — belongs to any particular party.
And moving forward, the state Legislature should remove all partisan pretense for the secretary of state by making the office a nonpartisan position.
When interviewed by The Herald Editorial Board before the 2020 election, Wyman said she had been puzzled by the practice of assigning partisan affiliation to elections offices, since serving as Thurston County auditor.
For some elected offices, she asked by example, “Does it really matter if the coroner is a Democrat or Republican?”
“When you’re talking about overseeing the state’s elections and overseeing county elections you want to not even have the appearance that you’re helping a party or hurting a party and that you’re trying to be fair in all of your activities,” Wyman said.
State lawmakers should take that as a final bit of advice from Wyman in assuring the security, fairness and integrity of the state’s elections.
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