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Secretary of State Sam Reed, 2003. (Photo: Secretary of State)

Secretary of State Sam Reed, 2003. (Photo: Secretary of State)


Sam Reed Departs, Leaving Crowded Field Of Contenders

Amy Radil

The Washington secretary of state is in charge of running elections, registering corporations and overseeing the state archives. Stability has been a hallmark of the office in recent decades. But there's about to be a changing of the guard: Republican Sam Reed is not seeking reelection this year.


Seven candidates are vying to succeed him. Reed says whoever takes his place shouldn't count on warm relations with the state's political parties.

Sam Reed says he's been a lifelong Republican activist. But his strained relations with both major political parties began pretty much the day he took office as Washington secretary of state in 2000. The parties wanted more control over primary ballots and how presidential candidates were chosen — Reed supported measures to increase openness and participation.

Reed: "You know, I wish in some ways that it all would have settled down so I would have had better relations, because I think political parties play a very important role in our political system. But obviously I have a little different view — I don't view them as having a right to determine which candidates can be on the ballot and which candidates people can vote for in the primary."

And then there was the recount in the 2004 governor's race between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire. Reed says the pressure was intense and he had to make decisions that upset some of his closest friends. He says political parties don't share the goal of elections officials: To count every vote in close races.

Reed: "They view it as an extension of the campaign. So they're going to do anything they can to be advocates for their position, to try to get an edge, to get an advantage. That is not my responsibility; that is not the responsibility of the counties."

Reed says he believes it's a legitimate question to ask whether the secretary of state's office should be partisan at all. But he says a nonpartisan secretary would be hobbled by a lack of a support in Olympia.

As he prepares to leave office, Reed says he's ready to reengage with the Republican party; he plans to attend the Republican national convention this month. He also wants to encourage more moderate Republicans to run for office. Reed says Kim Wyman, the Republican running to succeed him, fits that mold. Wyman is the Thurston County auditor, the same job Reed had before he was elected. Wyman says she's comfortable dealing with the partisan pressures that surround elections.

Wyman: "We do have to maintain confidence on both sides. You have one side of the aisle that believes there's potential for voter fraud, and the other side of the aisle that thinks we should have unlimited access. And I think you have to find a balance between the two, and our state has done a good job of that."

There are three Democrats running for secretary of state: state Senator Jim Kastama, former state Senator Kathleen Drew, and former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. Also on the ballot are David Anderson, who is nonpartisan, as well as Karen Murray of the Constitution Party and Sam Wright of the Human Rights Party.

At a recent forum sponsored by KCTS and the League of Women Voters, the partisan dynamics were plainly visible. One issue was Sam Reed's decision to cross–check voter rolls with a national database of legal immigrants. Kim Wyman defended that move as another tool to improve the accuracy of voter information. But Democrat Kathleen Drew says that database is unsuitable and could disqualify eligible voters instead.

Drew: "I'm extremely concerned that we are following in the footsteps of Florida, looking to incorrect information. Correct data in might be helpful, but incorrect data is extremely harmful to eligible voters in our state. I am quite certain that I would not use that database."

Drew says actual voter fraud is as rare as a lightning strike. Her efforts would be directed toward more ballot drop boxes and same–day voter registration. Greg Nickels says his emphasis would also be on participation rather than on detecting fraud.

Nickels: "The idea that there's a vast conspiracy of voter fraud going on I think is incorrect, and certainly I think it's incorrect here in Washington state. So my direction as secretary of state will be to reach out to communities, particularly disenfranchised communities, and encourage participation."

Even Reed's protege, Wyman, says she wouldn't necessarily have sought access to the federal database this close to the election.

Wyman: "I think that the more data you get in, the better your data is coming out of it and the more accurate the records are. But you don't start changing things four months before a presidential election, because it starts to look like you're trying to disenfranchise voters and that's absolutely unacceptable."

But Reed says this database is just the latest of many that his office uses to check voter information. And he doesn't expect it to have much impact on voter rolls before the presidential election.

Reed: "I kind of doubt it, it sounds like they really aren't very well–prepared for this and it isn't like the others where we're able just to get access to a database. It's on a case–by–case basis."

State Senator Jim Kastama is the third Democrat seeking the office. Kastama says his centrist views have often landed him in hot water with his own party, and he's not afraid of that kind of pressure. He helped pass reforms to state elections after the 2004 gubernatorial race. And he says he stood up to enormous criticism when he joined Republicans on a budget plan earlier this year.

Kastama: "For that, I received 8,000 emails in two days. I heard profanities that I have never frankly seen in print before. My political career was threatened many times. I've been there, folks, I've withstood the fire."

Kastama got the endorsement of the Seattle Times, but is still considered a longshot for this race. He says he's running from what he calls the "radical center," but doesn't know if that's workable in this partisan age.

Kastama: "It's kind of an experiment, isn't it? It really is."

All of the candidates say they support sending out a printed voters' pamphlet and holding a presidential primary, which was cancelled this year for budget reasons. The Democratic candidates all support pre–registration for 16– and 17–year–olds, as well as same–day voter registration. Candidate and elections activist David Anderson has suggested that the state pay for postage to facilitate higher turnout for mail–in ballots.

I'm Amy Radil, KUOW News.

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