OLYMPIA — Two-term Secretary of State Kim Wyman — the fifth Republican to hold the office since 1965 — is one of only three statewide elected Republicans on the West Coast. This year, she faces a challenge from Democratic state Rep. Gael Tarleton of Seattle, who is leaving the Legislature in December after serving four terms.
Both are supporters of the state’s vote-by-mail system, and Wyman has appeared on national news networks extolling the safety and security of the process, which has been in place in Washington for years. But as she was during her 2016 reelection bid, Wyman has been criticized by opponents for not speaking more forcefully against Republican President Donald Trump, including this year’s attacks on the integrity of mail voting as several states move to incorporate changes ahead of the election amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Wyman said that she is “an elections administrator first and foremost.”
“If the president wants to rant and rave about how insecure vote by mail is or how our elections are going to be rigged, then I’m going to talk about the security measures that Washington state put in place,” she said.
Tarleton argues stance is not enough, given that the president’s misleading rhetoric has accelerated.
“If you are not standing up and calling it out for what it is, which is outrageous behavior, then you are staying silent at a time when democracy needs us to defend it,” she said.
Wyman was first elected to the post in 2012 by a narrow margin of just 50.4 percent. In 2016, she beat Democratic challenger Tina Podlodowski, now the head of the state Democratic party, with nearly 55 percent of the vote. In this year’s top-two primary, Wyman received just under 51 percent of the vote, while Tarleton received about 43 percent.
Tarleton has criticized Wyman for her early opposition to bills that ultimately became law, including same-day registration and preregistration of 16 and 17 year olds. Wyman argues that while she had concerns about those measures, she wanted to ensure security measures were in place to balance that increased access, which she said she supports.
“Why wasn’t she a champion?” Tarleton asked. “And that is the difference between what we need in this state and what we’ve had in this state.”
Wyman said that even though the office is a partisan office, she says she believes she’s approached the job in a nonpartisan way.
“It’s how you do the work every day, and my job is to inspire confidence in every voter no matter if they are a staunch Democrat or a hard-core Republican,” she said.