OLYMPIA – Republicans have overseen Washington state elections for more than 50 years despite Democrats dominating most other statewide offices.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman is the lone statewide elected Republican for Washington state and the entire continental West Coast.
She faces a challenge from Democrat Tina Podlodowski, a former Microsoft manager who served on the Seattle City Council for one four-year term in the 1990s and was an adviser to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray in 2014.
An August survey by independent pollster Stuart Elway showed Wyman leading Podlodowski 41 percent to 33 percent, with 26 percent of voters undecided.
The Elway survey of 500 registered voters was conducted by phone Aug. 9-13. Its margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Wyman narrowly won her election four years ago and voting in August’s “top two” primary was tight, with Wyman getting 48 percent of the vote and Podlodowski receiving 46 percent. Libertarian Tim Turner was far behind in third place and was knocked out of the running for the November election.
Part of Wyman’s challenge in keeping her office in Republican hands arises from the political divide brought about by the presidential election race that could have more of an impact on state races than in previous years, said Cornell Clayton, a political science professor at Washington State University.
“You have someone at the top of the ticket that we know is turning off large numbers of independent voters,” he said, referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The Washington secretary of state race is tight on the funding front. Podlodowski has raised more than $500,000 to finance her campaign so far, compared to about $425,000 for Wyman.
Podlodowski has attacked Wyman on issues ranging from low primary voter turnout to a delay in getting an online business portal up and running. In addition to being the state’s chief elections officer, the secretary of state also serves as chief corporations officer and supervisor of the state archives and state library.
Podlodowski’s campaign on Friday revealed that she notified the state Office of Cybersecurity about the vulnerability of an online voter registration and information site that inadvertently made information like voters’ phone numbers and emails accessible.
The problem has since been fixed and Wyman’s office said there was no security breach or hack of the voter system, and information like Social Security or driver’s license numbers was never accessible.
But in a statement, Podlodowski said Wyman “has not taken any clear steps to safeguard our personal information.”
Wyman in a statement apologized for the error, saying she takes her responsibility to safeguard voter information seriously. She said her office took quick action to fix the problem after Podlodowski notified officials.
“We all have to work together to protect each other,” Wyman wrote. “I’ve always tried to do what’s in the public’s best interest regardless of partisanship or anything else, so I appreciate her working with me to identify and correct the situation before any further problems occurred.”
The issue came up six weeks before ballots for the Nov. 8 election will start being mailed to the state’s 4 million voters.
Wyman has more than two decades of experience in elections work and has stressed that her “whole career has been about turning people out to vote.”
“The single most important element of my race is that Washington state needs to have elections that are fair and accurate,” she said. “We’ve had a long history of that in our state.”
Podlodowski counters that Wyman “is about the status quo.”
“And I’m about, ‘Is it time to make a change?’ ” she said. “It’s a definite contrast.”
Podlodowski wants free postage for mailed ballots and same-day voter registration and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds ahead of their eligibility to vote at age 18. She also said she would mandate performance audits for all of the state’s 39 county election offices to assess effectiveness on many issues, including election-related costs and registrations. Podlodowski also wants more drop boxes for voters around the state.
Wyman, who previously served as the Thurston County auditor and the county’s elections director, noted that her office already reviews all the county offices at least every five years, down from reviews every three years due to funding issues.
She said she will continue pushing the Legislature for funding for her initiatives that have not been approved by lawmakers, including a statewide printed version of the voter guide.
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