Candidates for Washington Secretary of State differ on experience, election management and cybersecurity

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For the first time in years, there are no Republicans in the race for Secretary of State in Washington – at least not officially.

Incumbent Democrat Steve Hobbs and nonpartisan candidate Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson will face each other in the November election after finishing in the top two in the primary.

Both candidates have long political backgrounds and some experience in electoral administration, but they disagree on which experience is most important for the foreign secretary’s role.

The secretary of state is the state’s chief election officer, and the role also includes archiving government records and providing information and access to the business community about corporations and charities.

Hobbs has credited his experience in the National Guard, dabbled in cybersecurity and worked both sides of the aisle as a former lawmaker. Anderson has placed her experience as a chartered accountant and her impartial record at the heart of her campaign.

She has criticized Hobbs for his lack of experience in election administration and other auditing duties.

In an August Association of Washington Business debate, Anderson called Hobbs an “inexperienced political appointee.” Hobbs was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to replace former Republican Secretary Kim Wyman when she took up a post in the Biden administration last fall. The winner of this year’s election will serve out the remainder of Wyman’s term through 2024.

In an interview with The Spokesman-Review, Anderson noted her experience with some of the technical aspects of the job, such as managing elections, document preservation, public record keeping, and corporate administration.

Anderson has served as Pierce County’s Comptroller since 2009. From 2004 to 2009 she was a member of the Tacoma City Council and Deputy Mayor.

“In my opinion, there is no substitute for direct expertise,” Anderson said.

Hobbs, on the other hand, said the office has changed in recent years. It’s much more of a leadership position dealing with cyber threats and election security, he said. It’s more than policing elections, although Hobbs said he’s been doing it for the last year of his term.

Prior to his appointment last year, Hobbs had been a state senator since 2007. He also served in the US Army and National Guard for 30 years.

“The governor had to appoint someone who takes election security seriously and has the background knowledge,” he said. “I’m the only one out there who has.”

Hobbs was endorsed by a number of Democratic congressmen including US Senator Maria Cantwell; current and former state officials, including Attorney General Bob Ferguson and State Examiner Pat McCarthy; and state legislators, including Spokane Sen. Andy Billig.

Anderson has received certifications from 38 current and former county comptrollers, including Spokane County Comptroller Vicky Dalton; current and former state officials, including former Secretary of State Sam Reed and former Attorney General Rob McKenna; and local elected officials, including Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward.

With no official Republican candidate, the race has drawn at least one enrollment campaign. After failing to elect Congress in central Washington’s 4th congressional district in August’s general election, Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, has campaigned for the post of Secretary of State. He had no reported posts as of Thursday, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.

To the topics

Anderson said she wants the office to be nonpartisan because she feels the job doesn’t require “unnecessary conflict through affiliation with a political party.” She said she didn’t think political parties belong in an office that oversees elections.

It’s a discussion that other candidates and past secretaries, including Wyman, have had. Wyman said it was a policy change that she would push for in a next term.

Hobbs said he didn’t care if the office was bipartisan. He said he could operate in either scenario.

“It’s the person who’s in the office,” he said. “I don’t think it matters what label you have. It matters who is in the office.”

Hobbs has made cybersecurity a priority.

He said he invested more money to double cybersecurity personnel and improve existing relationships with cyber units in the National Guard. He said he also backed up VoteWA, the state’s voter database, to the cloud instead of to a hard drive.

To improve cybersecurity, Anderson said she wants each district to undergo penetration testing, where firewalls are regularly tested for holes. She also wants to help each county run tests on their spreadsheet systems that are connected to the internet.

Another big issue in the race is how to deal with electoral misinformation.

Earlier this election season, both candidates said they worked in their respective offices to provide information on state election procedures.

Hobbs said he is working to educate the public about the voting and counting process. He said the Office of the Secretary of State received extra money this year to spread that message.

He said he intends to continue to take action against misinformation and to work with a newly created department at his office dedicated to information integrity.

“We’ve taken elections for granted, but the public doesn’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes,” Hobbs said.

In Pierce County, Anderson said she has been working to improve her websites with more information about the election process and has stayed in touch with the community regarding any questions they have.

To improve transparency, Anderson said if she is elected, she also wants to conduct a statewide risk-limiting audit to ensure statistically valid samples are taken from each county for statewide races after the election. She also wants to establish an election observer corps, staffed by bipartisan volunteers, to monitor polling operations and review voter registration records nationwide.

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