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WA Secretary of State candidates debate election system, non-partisanship

TVW screenshot
Marquez Tiggs is one of eight candidates in the Secretary of State race.

The people running in Washington's only statewide race participated in a virtual candidate forum Thursday night.

Candidates for the only statewide race on Washington’s August 2 primary election ballot disagree about whether the state’s election system is working well. Some believe it’s a broken system; others think it’s the ‘gold standard’ for other states.

The Secretary of State’s position is on the ballot this year because of the resignation last fall of long-time incumbent Republican Kim Wyman. The secretary oversees elections in the state, registers corporations and directs the state archives and library, among other things.

But it’s elections these days that get the most attention. Each of the five candidates who participated Thursday night in a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Spokesman-Review said Washington is vulnerable to election fraud. Part of the reason why, said Democrat Steve Hobbs, is that the election process is poorly understood by the public. Hobbs was named last November by Governor Jay Inslee to replace Wyman.

“We just do a poor job of letting people know what’s going on behind the scenes and, because of that, we have allowed misinformation, disinformation, to run away from us. So I’m going to do more to let people know what goes on at the county auditor’s office and what goes on at the Secretary of State’s office when it comes to your ballot,” he said.

Former state Sen. Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way) believes the state’s election system has lost the trust of the people. He said the Secretary of State’s office needs to share more information about where fraud has been an issue so that people can track the problem.

“There should be numbers, metrics for all of this. The error rates, irregularities, mistakes, flawed ballots, what have you. All those should be counted and we should work to reduce them,” he said. “But if we’re not measuring our errors or actually actively looking for fraud, we’re not setting up an audit system, so we’re checking every step of the way so nobody could cheat, nobody could put their thumb on the scale or make a mistake, or we have improper execution of different standards, then we have mistrust of government.”

Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, running as a non-partisan candidate, said mistakes are possible, but said the current election system and its checks and balances is already robust.

“The way that we are able to track ballots and be completely accountable for that chain of custody, our signature verification, our strong election management system that ensures that only one ballot is counted for each voter, the verification that we do for voter qualifications before we issue ballots and before they’re counted, is just absolutely excellent,” she said.

The candidates also disagree about whether the Secretary of State’s office should remain a partisan position.

Anderson, as a non-partisan, says no.

“What would change if the office was designated as non-partisan? I think that it would send a signal, both to the political parties and the public that this office should be professional and not political?” she said.

Anderson said she supported a bill by Wyman to make the office non-partisan, but it never gained the critical mass it needed from lawmakers, including Miloscia.

“We need the parties to be involved in the election system to make sure the other side is doing things correctly,” he said.

Hobbs says he doesn’t care, that he’ll do his job the same, partisan or not.

The other candidates in the race are Republicans Bob Hagglund from Lake Stevens and Keith Wagoner, a state senator from Sedro Woolley; Seattle Democrat Marquez Tiggs; Kurtis Engle, a Union Party representative from Lacey and Tamborine Borrelli from Yelp and the America First Party.

You can watch the forum here. Spokane Public Radio will rebroadcast it Tuesday (7/19) at noon on KPBX-FM 91.1 in Spokane.

Ballots are going out in the mail this week in Washington. They’re due back to county auditors by 8 pm on Tuesday, August 2 or postmarked by that day.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.