With the general election less than six weeks away, The Herald launches its endorsements of state offices, legislative positions and ballot measures with the office responsible for elections in the state.
The Secretary of State is Washington’s chief elections officer, supervising state and local elections, certifying results, producing and distributing the state voters pamphlet. Increasingly, the position has required efforts to encourage voter registration and turnout. Currently, more than 4.1 million state residents are registered to vote, about 80 percent of those eligible.
The office also is responsible for registering and licensing corporations, partnerships and trademarks; collects and preserves the state’s historical records and makes them available for research; serves as chairman of the state Productivity Board; and administers the address confidentiality program for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
Kim Wyman, a Republican, has served since winning election in 2012, succeeding Sam Reed, who served three terms as Secretary of State before stepping down from office. Previously, Wyman served in similar positions; she served as Thurston County’s elections officer for eight years, was appointed county auditor in 2001, then served a total of four terms.
Wyman is challenged this year by Democrat Tina Podlodowski, a former software executive for Microsoft who also served a term on the Seattle City Council and has worked in leadership roles with Washington Citizens for Fairness, the Pride Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign. She also helped form the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which won passage in 2014 of Initiative 594, which broadened firearm background checks.
Podlodowski has been most critical of what she sees as Wyman’s lackluster efforts to increase voter registration and turnout and points to a drop in turnout. Turnout for the 2015 general election was just 38.5 percent, down from a similar off-year election in 2013 of 45.3 percent. Turnout in 2014, which featured Congressional and legislative races, was higher at 54.3 percent.
Podlodowski suggests a series of efforts to boost registration and turnout, including allowing those 16 and 17 to preregister to vote, same-day registration, prepaid postage on ballots and increased use of ballot drop boxes as an alternative to mailing ballots that would save voters the cost of postage.
But Podlodowski takes too small a sample of voter participation and fails to recognize the various factors that can affect turnout over time, particularly the races, initiatives and other measures on the ballot. Since 1952’s mark of 80.2 percent, state turnout has fluctuated in presidential election years from a low of 74.5 percent in 1996 to a high of 84.6 percent in 2008. It was 81.3 percent in 2012.
And Wyman backs most of the measures Podlodowski seeks and has worked to pass legislation and implement other efforts toward that goal. Wyman would extend preregistration to 17-year-olds, but has said that same-day registration would put additional demands on county elections workers on Election Day.
Earlier this year, Wyman sought legislation in the House and Senate that would have expanded provisions in the Motor Voter Act to increase voter registration by allowing automatic registration at five state agencies, including the departments of Health and Social and Health Services.
Wyman also worked this year to move up the date of the presidential primary and get both parties to agree to use the presidential primary results to allocate at least some national convention delegates. Republicans agreed, and used the primary for that purpose, but the state Democratic Party stuck with its caucuses to allocate delegates. Democrats also refused to budge on the primary date.
Podlodowski also has criticized Wyman for not supporting Voting Rights Act legislation, which would make it easier for cities and others to set up voting by district to increase representation for minority neighborhoods. Wyman opposed the legislation as first proposed, but her concerns were resolved and she worked with former Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, to get the legislation passed in the House this year, though it stalled in the Senate.
Wyman’s efforts have also earned the state an improved ranking with Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan elections website that offers information on candidates and issues. In its most recent report, Ballotpedia ranked Washington as the most improved state for accessibility of its elections division, moving up from 22nd in 2014 among the 50 states to third this year on the strength of its marks on ease of online access, quality of information on its website and response time to emails.
Wyman runs as a Republican, but the office requires no partisan position, and Wyman has respected the nonpartisan nature of the office and has sought to serve the interests of voters.
The Herald endorses Kim Wyman for a second term.