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Washington Secretary of State headed to federal election security role

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Next month, Washington’s top election official will resign from the post she’s held for nearly a decade and head east. Kim Wyman is set to join the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), assigned to track and prepare for domestic and international threats to American elections.

Wyman was elected in 2012, and voters returned her to office most recently last autumn. She gained nationwide attention for being one of the few Republican election officials to push back on former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.

“She, I think, got onto the Biden administration’s radar because she is a Republican who has not bought into this narrative,” Northwest News Network Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins told SPR’s Brandon Hollingsworth. “She also wrote a book with her husband about the 2020 election and the threats to it and to democracy, so she’s outspoken on this topic.”

Wyman also defended voting processes that other Republicans criticized, such as voting by mail, ballot drop boxes, same-day and automatic voter registration, and pre-registration for people younger than eighteen.

“This growth in access was coupled with partnerships that improved election security,” Wyman said in a statement. That included statewide cybersecurity training, the establishment of an Elections Security Operations Center, and communications systems that link up election officials.

"The threats to our country's election system continue each day and they must be met with a combined effort by IT and cybersecurity experts alongside election professionals at the local, state and federal levels," Wyman said on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Former DHS election security official Chris Krebs praised Wyman’s selection, calling her “the real deal and a true professional.” Krebs was head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency until Trump fired him in 2020. Krebs had publicly defended the integrity and security of the 2020 election.

Once Wyman resigns November 19, Gov. Jay Inslee will appoint a temporary successor. His choice will be politically sensitive, because Wyman is the most recent Republican elected to statewide office in Washington. Republicans have held the secretary of state role since 1965. Inslee is not obligated to appoint a Republican, but his office told Jenkins he hasn’t ruled out doing so.

But appointing a Democrat may prove a more tantalizing choice, Jenkins said, because it could represent a chance for Democrats to take the seat in 2022.

“Whoever gets that appointment is going to be very well-positioned to then run for the position next November to finish out Kim Wyman’s term,” Jenkins said.

Former State Rep. Gael Tarleton, a Democrat who ran against Wyman in 2020, says she intends to seek the appointment. Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall is “strongly considering” putting her name in contention as well. Hall was named Auditor of the Year last month. Washington Republican Party chair Caleb Heimlich says auditors in Franklin and Yakima counties would be qualified for the secretary of state job. He said Tuesday that appointing a Republican would honor the will of Washington voters when they re-elected Wyman last November.