Nine statewide offices are up for election this November, but the most hotly contested battle in Washington may be the one for Secretary of State.
On Saturday night, Republican incumbent Kim Wyman, and Democratic challenger Tina Podlodowski faced off in a debate at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Capitol Hill, as part of the Fix Democracy First and WAmend 2016 Awards Dinner.
Wyman is currently the lone member of the Republican Party to hold a statewide position on the West Coast, and is trying to hold on to a position held by the GOP since 1964.
Throughout the nearly hour-long debate — moderated by KIRO-AM host Dave Ross — Podlodowski criticized her opponent’s record over her four years in the position, while Wyman attempted to frame the former Seattle City Councilmember as unprepared for the nuances of the role.
One of the main points of contention on the night surrounded the Washington Voting Rights Act.
Podlodowski voiced her strong support for the measure, along with a bevy of other efforts she believes would increase voter turnout, including postage-free ballots, automatic voter registration, same day registration, and pre-registration for 16-and-17-year-olds.
Wyman acknowledged her opposition to the original version of the bill in 2012, saying that it had some mechanical issues at the time that needed work. However, through conversations with lawmakers (specifically mentioning Rep. Luis Moscoso), her issues regarding the language of the measure were addressed.
But from that point forward, she said, she didn’t advocate on it because she felt it was a policy discussion the legislature was having.
When asked whether they see the role as merely clerical, or one in which they can push for certain reforms, Wyman said she has focused on being fair and balanced as the person tasked with overseeing the election system, and therefore has stayed away from specific stances.
But for Podlodowski, the mission is to, “make sure that everyone eligible is registered, and everyone registered is voting,” and that’s not currently the case, with 1.5 million eligible yet unregistered potential voters. Of that number, Podlodowski said, most are women, young people, from communities of color, recently naturalized citizens, and those making less than $50,000 a year.
But Wyman said that outreach is being done, noting that election materials are printed in 19 languages. She did, however, cede the point to Podlodowski that her office should be at every naturalization ceremony, something that hasn’t been done to this point.
The two also sparred over voter turnout, with the challenger saying that Wyman has not done enough over the past four years to get people registered, or to the polls.
But the incumbent claimed that, to an extent, it’s out of the hands of whoever is in the position.
“It is what is on the ballot that drives turnout,” Wyman said.
To that end, Wyman guaranteed that Seattle will see “incredibly high” turnout in the August primary because of the 8th Congressional District race.
Podlodowski said increasing turnout has to start with planning at the local level, and both getting people interested and making it accessible to vote on smaller measures.
“It’s not pulling the big levers,” Podlodowski said, “it’s pulling the little levers.”
The primary election system was also a hot topic of discussion, with both candidates stressing the need for changes.
Wyman mentioned her efforts to move up this year’s presidential primary, and her aim to have it early enough in the cycle to where it means something in the national race — and in turn draws candidates to come to the state to campaign — while also being credible so parties want to use the results. This year, Republicans used the primary to allocate delegates to the national convention, while Democrats used caucuses to do so, rendering the vote little more than a glorified straw poll.
Her opponent called the current primary system “broken,” citing the $11.5 million price tag. Podlodowski said that moving up the primary date needs to be evaluated in tandem with other nearby states, like Oregon and Montana, to create a “Northwest Primary” that would garner more attention from the candidates, while also allowing for a focus on regional issues.
There was also brief discussion on the controversial issue of electing judges. The incumbent said it’s a challenging topic, but that she’s unsure that there’s a more tenable option for filling those roles, and that elections make those officials more accountable to the public. Podlodowski said it’s a problem in the same way the current initiative process in a problem, and another issue that needs to be part of a performance audit of the whole system.
On her first day in office, Podlodowski said she would launch an audit, looking at everything from turnout, to registration, to the office’s finances.
“You can’t begin to fix the system, and work the system, until you have the numbers to do that,” she said.
To learn more about Wyman’s campaign, visit www.kimwyman.com. For more information on Podlodowski’s campaign, go to www.votersfortina.com.