With much attention on Washington’s secretary of state in recent weeks, lawmakers should be pondering the future of the office and recognize that citizens would be well-served if the position were nonpartisan. Protecting democracy and ensuring free and fair elections transcends party preference and is essential to ensuring —or restoring — the faith of the electorate.
Kim Wyman is among those who believe candidates for secretary of state should not declare a party affiliation. “From an optic standpoint, that would in the long run inspire confidence to a greater degree,” she said last year, while successfully campaigning for a third term in the office.
She also was quoted as saying, “When you’re talking about overseeing the state’s elections and overseeing county elections you want to not even have the appearance that you’re helping a party or hurting a party and that you’re trying to be fair in all of your activities.”
Those thoughts came to mind in recent weeks with the office changing hands. Wyman has left to serve in the Biden administration as the election security lead for the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the body responsible for safeguarding U.S. elections. In the role, she will serve as the federal government’s top liaison to the states.
Wyman, a Republican, is eminently qualified for the role. She spent her time in elected office bolstering Washington’s election security — even before such security became a prominent national issue. In the past year, she helped other states secure their vote-by-mail processes, and she calmly but firmly explained in national interviews that Donald Trump’s claims of a rigged election were absurd.
Now, she has been replaced by Steve Hobbs, who was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee and sworn in Monday. Hobbs, previously a state senator from Lake Stevens, is the first Democrat to be secretary of state since 1965.
In an interview with Crosscut, Wyman said: “I think the party moniker is less important if you’re going to step into this role. What’s important is inspiring confidence across the political spectrum and not just in your party.”
Indeed, these are hyperpolarized times, and such polarization has diminished confidence in our electoral system.
In Clark County, voters this month indicated they are weary of the divisiveness.
With 65 percent of the vote, voters approved Charter Amendment No. 1, which will make elected county offices such as assessor, auditor and prosecuting attorney nonpartisan. With 64 percent of the vote, they also approved Charter Amendment No. 2, which will make county councilor positions nonpartisan. In the future, candidates for, say, sheriff and county chair will run without a party affiliation next to their name.
At the state level, there are nine executive positions. Eight of them — state superintendent is the exception — are partisan positions. Supreme Court positions are nonpartisan. While it makes sense for a governor or lieutenant governor to align themselves with one party or the other, secretary of state is a position that should be placed above the fray. Like education and justice, fair elections are not a partisan issue.
On Monday, upon being sworn in, Hobbs echoed Wyman’s mantra: “The last thing we need is to have our democracy eroded by people believing that their election system is not secure, when it is secure.” Lawmakers also should honor Wyman’s legacy by beginning the process to make secretary of state a nonpartisan position.