Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Oct. 21, 2020

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In Our View: Secretary of state should be nonpartisan office

The Columbian

Despite deep political divisions in this country, members of both major parties should be able to agree on the importance of accessible and secure elections. The issue is of such concern that it extends well beyond the boundaries of partisanship.

Because of that, Washington’s secretary of state, which serves as the state’s top election official, should be a nonpartisan office. When it comes to protecting democracy, partisan wrangling diminishes confidence in our system of elections and, therefore, our governance.

“From an optic standpoint, that would in the long run inspire confidence to a greater degree,” Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, said, according to The Seattle Times.

Inspiring confidence in democracy is of the utmost importance, particularly in times of divisiveness. Voting systems are facing attacks that are chipping away at the very foundation of our nation, creating discord and diminishing the assurances that are necessary for the peaceful transition of power.

President Donald Trump has persistently denigrated vote-by-mail, supported a new postmaster general who has undermined his own agency, and has suggested that the November election will be rife with fraud. He has not, however, criticized attempted Russian interference in the 2016 election that has been uncovered by American intelligence agencies, nor has he publicly defined steps to prevent interference this year.

Wyman, on the other hand, has been an outspoken defender of vote-by-mail and has detailed steps taken to ensure secure voting in this state. In the process, she has developed a national profile while consistently reassuring voters that vote-by-mail is safe — and then explaining why.

That transcends party lines, with all Americans benefitting from a voice of reason in a position of power. During an interview with Wyman, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper joked about moving to Washington and said, “Wow! … It’s a pleasure to talk to someone who’s interested in the facts. I’ve got to tell you, it’s rarer and rarer.”

And still, partisan attacks continue, even in Wyman’s own state. U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, a Democrat who is running for lieutenant governor, has wrongly criticized Wyman for being complicit in Trump’s attacks on our election systems, as has former Democratic Rep. Brian Baird.

Wyman is running for a third term as secretary of state, facing Democrat Gael Tarleton. The Columbian’s Editorial Board has an interview scheduled with both candidates and has not yet decided which one to recommend to readers. And while this year’s race will inevitably be viewed through a partisan matrix, in the future it doesn’t have to be that way.

Wyman has proposed removing party affiliation from the secretary of state post. Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno, a Republican, has recommended such a move in her state, but has not pursued the idea.

In Washington, nine state executive positions are on the ballot this year. One of those — superintendent of public instruction — by definition is nonpartisan. So are the various state Supreme Court positions on the ballot. Promoting nonpartisan fairness and equity in the education and legal systems is essential, and the same should be said for elections. Distributing ballots and counting votes should be done without any concerns about party favoritism, and perception can become reality in the minds of voters.

That perception is particularly dangerous during a time of hyperpolarization. Working to reverse it would benefit the people of Washington and for our democracy.