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Hobbs and Anderson disagree on ranked choice voting, party affiliation at secretary of state debate

Oct. 23, 2022 Updated Mon., Oct. 24, 2022 at 8:56 a.m.

As ballots began arriving in voters’ mailboxes, the candidates for Washington secretary of state – incumbent Steve Hobbs, a Democrat, and nonpartisan candidate Julie Anderson, the current Pierce County auditor – faced off Sunday at Gonzaga University to make their pitch.

During the debate, organized by the League of Women Voters and The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club and held at Gonzaga’s Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center, both candidates emphasized their experience in securing Washington state elections and establishing trust among voters.

Anderson highlighted her run as a nonpartisan candidate during a time when U.S. politics have become increasingly divisive. Anderson said having a party-endorsed official who also runs elections is “part of the problem” when it comes to earning voters’ trust.

“It’s like an umpire at home plate calling balls and strikes while wearing a team jersey,” she said.

Until Hobbs was appointed in 2021, the secretary of state’s office had been held by Republicans for six decades.

Hobbs highlighted his experience combating cybersecurity threats in the military and as an election official. The role of the secretary of state’s office has evolved over the years to include “defending our elections from internal and external threats from malign actors hoping to bring down our democracy,” he said.

Hobbs was appointed to the position by Gov. Jay Inslee after former Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman left for a job in the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Administration. Prior to his appointment as secretary of state, Hobbs served as state senator for Washington’s 44th legislative district, near Snohomish. He is also a lieutenant colonel in the Washington Army National Guard.

Anderson has served as Pierce County auditor since 2009, where she is responsible for elections, licensing and public document recording. Prior to her position as auditor, Anderson served as an adviser to the Washington state Department of Commerce as well as a member of the Tacoma City Council, among other titles.

The Washington secretary of state’s office is primarily responsible for supervising elections in Washington state and certifying their results, as well as filing and verifying initiatives and referendums and producing and distributing voter pamphlets and election notices, among other roles.

The two candidates butted heads over the future of ranked-choice voting, which allows for voters to rank multiple candidates on a ballot. In that system candidates receiving the least number of votes are eliminated and their votes are redistributed until a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote and is declared the winner.

Hobbs said he opposed the practice because “it disenfranchises communities and leaves us vulnerable to misinformation,” but that he would honor the voters’ decision if they choose ranked-choice voting in the future.

Anderson said she supports ranked-choice voting and that “it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when’ ” voters in Washington approve it.

Recent polling from a Crosscut/Elway poll shows an even split between both candidates.

Whoever is elected will be the first non-Republican to hold the secretary of state’s office since the 1960s.

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