Seattle Democrat Tina Podlodowski is making voter participation and election-technology upgrades a major piece of her campaign to unseat incumbent Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
The challenger is right: The state does need to do more to get potential voters registered. The state elections system also must be secure against hackers’ attacks.
But Republican Wyman of Thurston County is also right: The state elections office should not carry a partisan tone and should keep producing elections results that are beyond reproach.
Wyman’s record as an independent Thurston County auditor was excellent, despite a few relatively glitches, and her agency’s performance in the disputed 2004 gubernatorial election was exemplary. She also has done good work to assist overseas voters with ballots.
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We favor Wyman over Podlodowski for a second term, mainly because she evinces a clearer grasp of Washington elections. Wyman is independent and well acquainted with the needs of the 39 counties that operate somewhat independently of the state elections office.
Her record during her first term as secretary of state could have been stronger in a few areas such as election-law reform.
Meanwhile, Podlodowski’s campaign against Wyman has been hard-nosed like any political battle, and she’s stretched the truth in describing the relatively low voter turnout in the August primary. We’re left to hope she can leave that at the door, if elected, once she walks into office.
Of larger concern, Podlodowski, who is a former Seattle City Council member with executive experience at several non-profit groups, has made statements have show a misunderstanding of how elections work in Washington.
For example, Podlodowski said last year that Wyman should have canceled the president primary that was held this spring in late May.
But the decision to spend some $11.5 million on the primary — which the state Republican Party used to allocate delegates for their presidential nominees and Democrats did not —– was a legislative decision. Wyman had no czar-like ability to strike down the election, and her efforts to win Democratic support for an earlier and more meaningful primary went nowhere.
Podlodowski now says she was only trying to highlight that Wyman didn’t fight hard enough with lawmakers to cancel the primary. That is a smarter statement and one we’d prefer to have heard initially. Podlodowski argues that extra drop boxes and return-postage costs for voters’ ballots could have been covered by canceling the presidential primary.
The challenger also criticizes Office of the Secretary of State for a recent technology gap she brought to the attention of the agency. A third-party group analyzed weaknesses in the state voter database and found some personal information could have been hacked.
It was high-minded that Podlodowski waited until the elections office could fix the glitch before making it public. Wyman quickly apologized and took responsibility, and it appears no lasting harm was done. The identity of voters, phone numbers, and emails were in the accessed fields, but Wyman contends that no Social Security or driver license numbers touched.
Podlodowski also points out that Wyman hasn’t delivered on a one-stop online portal for businesses that need to register with the state as corporations or pay taxes. Wyman said it has been hard to get some agencies on board with her office.
Whether Podlodowski can do better than Wyman in working across the aisle, or with other agencies, remains to be seen. But she has executive experience with the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound and the Lifelong AIDS Alliance.
Certainly the challenger has taken stronger, more progressive positions than the incumbent on adopting a state Voting Rights Act that would make it easier for local governments to create elections and improve the odds of minority candidates winning in communities that have high percentages of minority voters, but Wyman has been working on a draft law.
If elected, the challenger pledges to push the state Democratic Party into using the presidential primary in future election cycles to pick delegates — much as Wyman’s party did.
At this point, Wyman has a track record of delivering as on fair, credible elections and she deserves another term. But we also think she has work to do.