Secretary of state candidates kick off debate season in Vancouver

Two of four hopefuls attend event

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

A Republican and Democrat in the running for Washington Secretary of State agreed on most issues pertaining to the state office during a debate Thursday, March 29, in Vancouver but parted ways on the topics of same-day registration and preregistration for teenagers.

Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman a Republican, opposes same-day registration and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds. Same-day registration raises concerns about voter fraud and weighing down election offices on the days votes must be counted. Preregistration creates other complications, such as chasing down eligible voters after they’ve moved away to college, Wyman said.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, supports both measures as a means to increase voter participation.

The two candidates make up only half the field. Candidates Greg Nickels, a Democrat and former Seattle mayor, and Kathleen Drew of Olympia, an analyst in the governor’s office and former Democratic state senator, didn’t participate in Thursday’s debate sponsored by the Freedom Foundation and Clark County online news network couv.com.

About 25 people, including members of the Freedom Foundation, turned out for the free event at Fort Vancouver High School. The debate marked the first of the campaign, preceding even the candidate filing deadline for the May 18 election.

“I wanted to bring attention to the state auditor and secretary of state races because those two people are pretty far down the ballot and don’t get a lot of attention,” said Scott Roberts, the nonprofit Freedom Foundation’s citizen action network director. The Secretary of State serves important roles as the state’s chief elections officer, chief corporations officer and supervisor of the state archives and state library. During election season, the race is often drowned out by higher-profile races such as governor.

Victoria Taft, KPAM conservative radio talk show host, moderated Thursday’s debate. Taft asked what changes each candidate would ask the state Legislature to make.

Wyman said she would ask for a paper pamphlet for primary elections “for people who don’t have access to the Internet.” Currently, the guide is available online.

“We need to do this because the primary election is where many

of our races are decided,” she said. She also would increase the frequency of reviews of county election offices.

Kastama said he would like to step up voter registration in the state. Same-day registration and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds are some of the ways to do that.

He also promised to keep a chart in his office showing goals for each division and measurements of whether those objectives had been accomplished.

On the particularly hot-button issue of requiring driver’s license identification for voters, both candidates said such a requirement would lie with the Legislature and anticipated legal challenges if the state were to go that route. A judge in Missouri on Thursday overturned a legislative edict to require driver’s licenses. The requirement can create barriers for low-income voters, Wyman said.

“On the other side, it’s very reasonable to be asked for some form of ID (when voting),” Kastama noted.

Both candidates also support continuing the state’s mail-in voting system.

Wyman touted her experience conducting 87 elections during her 22-year career in the auditor’s office as a good reason to vote for her. Kastama said his “fierce independence” and willingness to cross party lines in the Legislature are what the Secretary of State’s office needs.

Drew said she couldn’t attend due to a scheduling conflict. Nickels’ campaign did not respond to a phone call from The Columbian.

The Freedom Foundation, formerly Evergreen Freedom Foundation, describes itself as a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that “works to advance individual liberty, free enterprise and limited accountable government.” It was founded by former Republican state Rep. Bob Williams.

Roberts said the group chose Vancouver as the location of the first debate to further its mission of reaching the public, including those who do not live in the state’s urban and political centers of Seattle and Olympia.

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