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Washington primary will winnow large field for Secretary of State

Washington Secretary of State's Office
Some candidates for Washington Secretary of State want to return to poll-based voting, or at least offer it as an option in addition to vote by mail.

For nearly six decades, Republicans held Washington's top election post — Secretary of State.

That streak ended last November when Kim Wyman resigned to take an election security post with the Biden administration, and Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Democratic state Sen. Steve Hobbs to the post.

But now Hobbs has to run for election to serve out the remaining two years of Wyman's term. And he's got some competition.

The primary race for Secretary of State has drawn eight candidates. The August 2 primary will winnow that list to two finalists.

Typically, the Secretary of State's race in Washington is a predictable affair that features Democrats pushing for more access to voting and Republicans cautioning about election security.

But normalcy went out the window in 2020 as former President Donald Trump and his supporters falsely alleged the presidential election had been stolen due to widespread fraud.

Trump's rhetoric, the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and efforts to overturn state election results served as a stress test on American democracy.

Now elections themselves have become a campaign issue, and this year in Washington topics like election security, trust in elections and combating misinformation are trending in the Secretary of State's race.

The race has drawn four Republicans, two Democrats, one nonpartisan and one candidate who says he prefers the "union" party.

Hobbs, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the Washington National Guard, points to overseas cyberthreats, election lies and voter apathy as among the challenges facing election administrators today.

“No other candidate except for me has the experience to combat these issues,” Hobbs said at a recent candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Five of the eight candidates participated in the virtual forum. They included Republican Mark Miloscia, a former state lawmaker and head of the conservative Family Policy Institute who bills himself as a quality and management expert.

"The voters have lost confidence in what we’re doing," Miloscia said. "I am the only one here who has the skillset to restore confidence and get both Republicans and Democrats and independents both engaged and involved.”

But it’s another candidate who thinks she’s uniquely qualified and positioned to appeal to voters across party lines. Julie Anderson is a certified election administrator who currently serves as Pierce County Auditor. She’s running without a party affiliation.

“I’m running as a nonpartisan because I believe deeply that political parties do not belong in the Secretary of State’s office," Anderson said at the forum.

So far Hobbs, Anderson and Miloscia lead the fundraising race. As of July 15, Hobbs had reported raising $392,974, Anderson $159,745 and Miloscia $57,955.

The field also includes candidates who’ve raised little to no money and haven’t held public office before. Two of them appeared at the candidates forum. Marquez Tiggs, a Democrat who’s Black, served in the Army and says in his campaign biography that he wants to combat voter suppression. But at the forum he also expressed support for a voter ID requirement and a return to in-person voting.

“I believe that the majority of people would want to cast their vote at a physical location instead of mailing in their ballot," Tiggs said.

Republican Bob Hagglund, a self-described health care data scientist and software developer, also expressed wariness about vote-by-mail.

“We actually have no way to prove who votes, who marks their ballots so it’s something that’s always going to be an issue with a mail-in system,” Hagglund said.

Voters are required to sign their ballot envelope and that must match the signature on file.

Hagglund didn’t call for an end to mail-in voting, but a voter ID requirement is a key part of his platform.

The three other candidates — none of whom participated in the recent forum — are Republican state Senator Keith Wagoner, Tamborine Borrelli and Kurtis Engle.

Wagoner, a retired Navy commander, boasts the endorsements of former Secretaries of State Sam Reed and Ralph Munro, both Republicans.

"We cannot be blind to vulnerabilities nor fail to constantly improve and protect our election system," he says on his campaign website.

Borrelli, who calls herself an America First Republican, subscribes to former President Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent. She has sued county election officials in her role as director of the group Washington Election Integrity Coalition United.

Borrelli is running on a platform to end vote-by-mail and require the hand counting of ballots.

The final candidate, Kurtis Engle, who said he prefers the union party, warns in his voters’ guide statement that “if certain dominoes fall certain ways, we could have half a million Chinese troops in Western Washington.”

A common theme among the candidates is restoring trust in elections. At the forum, Hobbs insisted Washington elections are well run.

"We just do a poor job of letting people know what’s going on behind the scenes and because of that we’ve allowed misinformation and disinformation to run away from us," Hobbs said.

Similarly, Anderson, the Pierce County Auditor, said Washington has a "gold standard" election system that's among the best in the nation.

“But there’s more work to be done. We can make our elections even more accessible, even more transparent and even more secure," Anderson said.

Even though there’s no evidence of widespread problems or fraud in Washington elections, Miloscia said he wants to audit the entire process and validate every voter.

“Evidence and verification is how we make sure the system works and we eliminate fraud,” Miloscia said.

In addition to serving as the state’s top election official, Washington’s Secretary of State is responsible for the state archives and the state’s corporations division.

The top two finishers in the primary, regardless of party, will advance to the November election.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."