In the race for secretary of state, each candidate has questioned the other’s records and partisan ties, claiming the chief elections officer should be nonpartisan when it comes to elections. But both candidates’ partisan ties have defined their campaigns.
Since the beginning of her campaign, Democrat state Rep. Gael Tarleton has called on Republican incumbent Kim Wyman to stand up against President Donald Trump’s attacks on vote-by-mail. Tarleton has accused Wyman of not being open enough about her partisan ties. Wyman has said she approaches her job in a nonpartisan way.
Wyman said what separates her from her opponent is experience, noting Tarleton’s concerns with partisanship shows she doesn’t understand how the role of secretary of state actually functions.
But both candidates’ records show no matter how nonpartisan they claim to be, they always will have ties to their party.
We look at some claims from each candidate in the race.
Claim: Wyman took part in secret Republican-only meetings about elections.
Analysis: At the end of September, Tarleton released information that said Wyman attended Republican-only meetings with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, about elections integrity and security.
According to ProPublica, lawyer Hans von Spakovsky, whose voter fraud claims have been discredited, led the meetings. A staff member of Wyman’s listened in on an August meeting, according to emails obtained by ProPublica. Wyman herself was not in attendance at the time.
In an interview with The Spokesman-Review, Wyman said she wanted to hear what was being said at the meeting so she could understand the concerns of the Heritage Foundation.
Wyman did attend a February 2019 meeting with the Heritage Foundation and other Republican elections officials across the country. An agenda from the meeting shows planned discussions on new election legislation, election reform and a briefing on 2018 election results and litigation.
Wyman acknowledged that she attended the meeting, saying she attends many meetings throughout the year for different organizations, partisan or nonpartisan. She said the Heritage Foundation’s 2019 meeting is a yearly event where Republican secretaries of state meet.
She added it’s her job to listen to all points of view and understand the concerns regarding elections from all sides. She pointed to meetings she has attended with organizations often described as liberal, such as Common Cause, the National Women’s Political Caucus, the ACLU and the Brennan Center for Justice.
“My opponent is trying to turn this into a partisan conspiracy,” Wyman said. “And it’s not.”
In an interview with The Spokesman-Review, Tarleton called the Heritage Foundation a source that is not trusted. She criticized Wyman for agreeing to meet with them, especially in secret.
As a legislator, Tarleton said all meetings she attends in an official capacity are public. All of her relationships and political ties are public knowledge, Tarleton said, and she will continue to conduct herself that way if elected as secretary of state.
“Everything I do will be transparent to the people,” she said.
Claim: Wyman “plays” in national elections to help other Republicans get elected.
Truthfulness: True, at least in other states.
Analysis: In a debate between Wyman and Tarleton, Wyman said she tries to keep her political ties out of issues in Washington. This election, she said she has not endorsed or donated to any other Washington candidates.
She did admit, however, to “playing” in out-of-state elections, meaning she has helped Republicans in other states who are running for secretary of state.
In her response, Tarleton said she has worked to build bipartisan relationships in the Legislature. If Wyman wanted the secretary of state to be nonpartisan – something Wyman has said – then she could have introduced it at some point during her seven years as secretary of state, Tarleton said.
Tarleton said the difference between her and Wyman is that she is open about her partisan ties – something she does not think about Wyman.
“I’m proud to be a Democrat,” she said.
Claim: Wyman’s refusal to stand up to President Trump has led to national vote-by-mail problems.
Truthfulness: Depends on who you ask.
Analysis: Tarleton has claimed that Wyman has not done enough to adequately prepare other secretaries of state for vote-by-mail, an issue she said could result in delayed results and lack of voter access.
One way to combat this, Tarleton has argued, is demanding increased elections funding from fellow Republicans and the president.
That is something Tarleton says Wyman has not done.
Wyman, however, claims she has worked with elections officials across the country, giving them advice on switching to vote-by-mail, and has spoken with news organizations nationally about the safety and security of the process.
In a meeting with the National Association of Secretaries of State, a national bipartisan organization, president and New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, praised Wyman for her guidance regarding on vote-by-mail.
Wyman also has been open about how challenging it would be for many states to switch completely to vote-by-mail in only a few months.
“It’s going to be a tough optic to overcome, just the sheer number of ballots that these states are going to have,” Wyman said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review.
Since the beginning of her campaign, Tarleton has called on Wyman to stand up to Trump and his attacks on the integrity of vote-by-mail. She also has called on Wyman to stand up to other Republican secretaries of state for refusing to properly fund elections and allow better access to all voters.
Tarleton has said as elected officials, it is their job to stand up against attacks on their citizens’ ability to vote. Wyman, on the other hand, has said as the chief elections officer, her job is to remain completely nonpartisan in elections. She wants to focus on instilling confidence in the voters.
Wyman has said if there are real concerns with vote-by-mail, she will address them.
Tarleton said she is proud of the Republicans she knows who have stood against Trump, and she really hoped her secretary of state would do the same.
Claim: Tarleton voted for a bill that would have exempted the Legislature from Washington’s Public Records Act.
Analysis: Wyman has criticized Tarleton for her support of a bill that passed in the Legislature and would have exempted the Legislature from the Public Records Act. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Wyman claims Tarleton’s support for the bill is worrisome, as the role of the secretary of state is all about transparency.
“In the area of elections, this is critical,” Wyman said in a September debate.
In the debate, Tarleton admitted to voting for the bill but said she later apologized to her constituents for it. In an apology she wrote in 2018, she said the process of passing the bill was flawed and did not allow for enough public input. She urged her constituents to take part in conversations crafting new legislation to improve transparency.
“I will honor the Public Records Act voluntarily, and I have every moment since that day,” she said.
Claim: Wyman testified against bills that expand voting access and security.
Analysis: In 2018, the Access to Democracy package – five bills that improved voter access – passed in the Legislature. The bills implemented same-day registration, preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds and automatic voter registration for those obtaining driver’s licenses or identification cards.
During the legislative hearings, Wyman expressed concerns about the implementation and logistics of the bills, although she has said she supported the intent of the legislation.
Tarleton also criticizes Wyman for testifying in 2019 against an election-security and access bill in the U.S. House.
Wyman argued the new law would increase the cost of conducting elections and implement specific federal regulations on what is supposed to be a decentralized system. Tarleton argued it would actually improve funding and voter access.
Tarleton has also expressed her disappointment that Wyman hasn’t pushed the Legislature to pass more bills aimed at protecting elections from cyberthreats after the 2016 election.
Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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