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Secretary of State candidates share how they’d improve Washington’s election system

A voter inserts a ballot in a drive-up drop box for the Washington state primary at King County Elections in Renton, Washington on Aug. 3, 2020. (Photo by Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

The League of Women Voters of Washington Education Fund is hosting forums with candidates for statewide offices leading up to Election Day in November. The LWVWA teamed up with Thurston Community Media for a debate this past weekend between Kim Wyman and Gael Tarleton, the two candidates on the November ballot for Secretary of State.

The office of Secretary of State is a constitutional office, explained moderator Jim Camden, and one of the primary duties is being the state’s chief election officer. It is also the office for the registration of corporations and nonprofits, the keeper of the state archives, coordinates the state’s address confidentiality program, and manages the state library.

Each candidate had 60 seconds to respond to questions asked by Camden in the hour-long debate, starting with why they each believe they’re the best candidate for this office.

Wyman, who is in her second term in the office and a former county auditor, says it’s her experience in the role and her effort in ensuring that Washington voters have an “accessible, secure” voting system.

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“The reason I believe I’m the best candidate for the Secretary of State’s Office is really my experience, and leadership, and integrity that I’ve shown in the years I’ve served in this office, and as Thurston County Auditor,” she said. “I’m a … nationally and locally certified election administrator and have 27 years of experience overseeing over 120 elections.”

“I think in this COVID-19 environment, we’re really seeing the impact of that system that we’ve built because the states across the country are looking to Washington to see how they can adapt their systems to be more like Washington,” she added.

Tarleton says she’s running for this position to protect Washington’s elections.

“I’m running for this job because the job has changed, and I knew it had changed in 2016 in October when we were informed by the intelligence community officials and the department of homeland security secretary that every state in the country was under attack by the Russians to interfere in our 2016 elections,” she said. “And I knew from that moment on that I was going to spend every chance I had to strengthen our voting rights, to strengthen our voting systems, to strengthen our elections, to deal with the potential risk that we would be under either foreign or domestic attacks in 2020.”

“And here we are: Voting rights are under attack, our elections are under attack, and extraordinarily for me, who’s someone with 30 years of national security experience defending our country against foreign or domestic threats, we are under attack by both a foreign party, Russia, which has just been confirmed again by the senate intelligence committee, as well as by our own president,” Tarleton added.

Sec. of State candidate Tarleton: ‘Our voting rights are under attack’

The candidates were asked to share two specific ways they’d improve the state’s election system in the next four years, if elected Secretary of State.

Tarleton says she wants to focus on voter participation and engagement, as well as innovations in technology to make elections more accessible to those with disabilities and making sure election officials are educated in how to deal with any future threats.

She hopes to be able to address the gap between eligible voters and registered voters, hoping to find out what the barriers to registration are and eliminate them.

“Every person who is eligible to vote should be registering to vote,” she said. “Every person who is registered to vote will have a voice in our democracy if they are able to participate in our vote.”

Wyman said her focus would be on continuing the work already started, including building out cybersecurity defenses and learning from the new laws in place this election cycle. The new laws she referenced include same-day registration, automatic voter registration, and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

She said she’d want to see what worked in the actual general election this fall, and then determine what areas still need to be fine-tuned.

“I say this because these are two areas that we’ve spent – in the case of cybersecurity – the last four years really fine-tuning and building out our defenses, making our system much more secure, training our election officials, doing tabletop exercises, and working with federal and state partners to make sure our system is secure,” Wyman said. “I want to continue that in the future, and the same is said for those new laws.”

Listen to the rest of the debate between these two candidates online here. Find a list of all the upcoming forums hosted by the LWVWA here.

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