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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In race for secretary of state, candidates disagree over how to instill confidence in voters amid USPS, vote-by-mail concerns

The job of Washington’s secretary of state has gotten more complicated this election cycle.

With U.S. Postal Service cuts and a national conversation surrounding the safety of voting by mail, many have looked to Washington’s chief elections official for answers.

For state Rep. Gael Tarleton, a Democrat running for the position, Republican incumbent Secretary Kim Wyman could be doing more. For Wyman, doing the work to safeguard elections is more important than making a political statement.

Tarleton and Wyman advanced to the Nov. 3 general election, and vote-by-mail and continued protections of the state’s election systems are on their minds. Wyman finished with 50.9% of the primary vote with Tarleton receiving 43.3%, ahead of challengers Ed Minger, an independent, and Gentry Lange, who identified as Progressive.

Tarleton has criticized Wyman for what Tarleton says is refusing to stand up against President Donald Trump’s persistent attacks on vote-by-mail.

When the U.S. Postal Service sent out letters to election officials warning of delays in election mail, Tarleton said she started doing everything possible to instill confidence in Washington voters – something she said Wyman has not done enough.

Tarleton said the most important thing every elected official should be doing right now is making sure voters know about registration and ballot deadlines, where they can download registration forms and ballots, and what their options are for returning them that don’t include the postal service.

“All of these are within our power,” Tarleton said. “As public officials, we need to be telling our voters this.”

Tarleton said she is getting the word out, but has not seen Wyman doing that. Tarleton, along with other legislators, sent a letter to Wyman calling on her to join Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson in supporting Washington’s lawsuit against the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

Wyman has long said elections should not be a political issue, adding she always works to remain nonpartisan with elections and administrative functions. When people criticize her for not standing up to the president, Wyman said it shows their lack of experience running an election.

Instead of making a political statement, Wyman said she chose to do the work to ensure voters can register and vote.

“I’m always going to spend my time putting the voter first and making sure they can exercise their constitutionally protected right,” she said.

Since receiving the letter, Wyman said she has worked with postal partners and county auditors to ensure Washington’s elections are not disrupted. She said counties are mailing out ballots and voter guides early.

The secretary of state’s office also filed an emergency change in the administrative code, allowing ballots mailed out 15 days or closer to the election to be mailed at a first-class rate, which would be delivered within two to five days.

The state has a long history working with the postal service, Wyman said. She said she’s not anticipating delays, but if there are, county elections officials will be able to handle it.

Tarleton said Wyman has not done enough in her two terms to show the people of Washington what she stands for and how she plans to expand voter access.

“She’s had seven and a half years to lay out that vision for the voter, and she hasn’t done it,” Tarleton said.

Tarleton said if elected, she sees her role as one that focuses on encouraging new people to the state and young people to register to vote and creating equal access to elections. She pointed to her experience in cybersecurity and her background in the Legislature, where she said she has worked to pass legislation that deems election systems critical infrastructure and establishes requirements for testing election systems.

Wyman said she has worked with county auditors to create plans to ensure elections can continue during unexpected instances, such as natural disasters or security threats. Those continuity of operations plans have prepared counties to operate during a pandemic, she said.

“That has really set us up for success in this global pandemic, and really helped counties be prepared for the changes and the adaptions they needed to make,” she said.

Along with being the chief elections officer, the secretary of state is in charge of the state’s archives, corporation registration and the state’s address confidentiality program, which protects the addresses of survivors of stalking, domestic violence, trafficking or sexual assault.

Wyman said continuing the address confidentiality program is one of her highest priorities. She said if elected, she will also continue to upgrade systems for registering corporations and charities.

Along with strengthening cybersecurity, Tarleton said she wants to create an elections innovations group with people across the state that would explore ideas about encouraging more young people to vote and making registration more accessible to everyone.

“There are so many ways in which more voices can be brought into the decisions that come out of the Secretary of State’s office,” Tarleton said.

Voting in the November election begins Oct. 16. Ballots are due Nov. 3.

As of Thursday, Wyman had raised $704,694, and Tarleton had raised $483,538.

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.