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Secretary of State candidates tangle in debate

Challenger Tina Podlodowski, left, shakes hands with Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman before the the debate moderated by The Spokesman-Review's Jim Camden, behind, on the stage at the Spokane Falls Community College Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Challenger Tina Podlodowski, left, shakes hands with Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman before the the debate moderated by The Spokesman-Review's Jim Camden, behind, on the stage at the Spokane Falls Community College Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Candidates for Secretary of State usually don’t garner much attention, but this year two candidates are locked in a tight race for the seat and aren’t pulling punches.

A debate Wednesday at Spokane Falls Community College between challenger Tina Podlodowski and incumbent Kim Wyman became spirited as they challenged each other’s experience and competence.

Podlodowski said Wyman hasn’t accomplished anything in her four years in office. Wyman countered that Podlodowski doesn’t have the experience required for the job and wants to inject partisan politics into an office charged with overseeing elections.

“I’m sorry you are ashamed to be a Republican,” Podlodowski said. “You are partisan. This is a partisan office.”

While she’s proud to be a Republican, Wyman said, partisanship has to be left at the door. She noted that 60 current county auditors and elections officials from all over the political spectrum have endorsed her.

Wyman worked as elections director for Thurston County for 10 years before she was elected Secretary of State. Podlodowski is a former Microsoft manager and served a term on the Seattle city council in the 1990s.

Podlodowski repeated her criticism that voter turnout during Wyman’s tenure has been terrible. The key to reversing that is voter education and engagement, she said.

“I don’t think we have to accept poor performance,” she said. “We can do better.”

Wyman said election turnout is always lower in nonpresidential election years and only tends to be high if there is an important issue on the ballot. But even when Washington turnout has been low, it has still been better than many other states, she said.

She said she has been trying to get the Legislature to fund a voter’s pamphlet to educate voters. The state also has made strides in making it easier for new voters to register.

People can register when they get their license and register online. The state also offers election materials in 17 languages instead of the three required. “Washington state is leading,” Wyman said.

Podlodowski also criticized Wyman for not supporting the Voters Rights Act. Wyman said she didn’t support the 2012 version of the bill but has since worked to improve and advance the proposed legislation.

“Good legislation takes time,” Wyman said. “We’ve been working with legislators behind the scenes.”

“You’ve had four years to get the Republicans to the table, and you’ve done nothing,” Podlodowski said.

Podlodowski was questioned about a call she made in May shortly before the presidential primary for Wyman to cancel the election, which Wyman does not have the authority to do.

On Wednesday, Podlodowski said she only made that statement to make a point.

“The reality is, the primary system in Washington state is broken,” she said.

Both candidates agreed that the state’s caucus system doesn’t work well and the primary election should be moved earlier. Wyman has requested that the election be moved to March, but the Legislature did not approve the change.

“We need to have a meaningful primary and that’s what I’m working toward,” Wyman said.

The two differed on how initiatives should be handled. Podlodowski said the Legislature that passed the initiative law in 1912 never envisioned someone like Tim Eyman making a business out of preparing initiatives and believes changes should be made to the process, including raising the cost to file an initiative.

Wyman said the law is working as planned.

“They wanted direct democracy,” she said. “Few turn in signatures and even fewer are made into law.”

Podlodowski repeatedly said that she would improve voter registration and voter turnout, but she offered few specifics on how she would accomplish that goal. She also said she intends to conduct a performance audit of the state’s voting system if she is elected.

Wyman said she has the experience and integrity required for the office.

“I’ve earned the trust of people who actually know how to run an election,” she said.

Podlodowksi said she believes the voters want change.

“Kim Wyman is failing Washington voters and businesses,” she said. “She has failed to deliver on her promises.”

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