Attorney Jeff Winmill announced last week that he was suspending his campaign for Secretary of State (one of nine statewide executive department positions that Washington voters must fill in presidential election years) to allow NPI’s Gael Tarleton to unite the Democratic Party in her challenge to Republican Kim Wyman. This is a move Winmill believes is in the best interest of recapturing the office.
Winmill has been active in Democratic politics for years.
After working as an energy attorney, he supported President Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008 and then served as legal counsel for ballot access during the subsequent 2012 presidential campaign. He also served as the Director of Voter Protection for the Washington State Democrats last year, working to protect access to the ballot during the 2018 midterm elections.
Thanks to this work, Winmill saw firsthand the disparities between Washington counties with respect to access and ease of participation. He told NPI that it’s one of the reasons he decided to run for Secretary of State.
“One of the big things I noticed was the resource disparities between counties when it comes to election administration,” he said.
“If counties don’t have the resources to effectively implement their elections, then it’s people’s voting rights that are affected.”
Winmill believes the Secretary of State should make it priority to ensure all counties have the resources to properly and effectively stage elections.
(At NPI, we’re fond of saying that elections are a public service just like roads, police and fire protection, parks, schools, and libraries. And just like any of those essential services, elections cost money to hold.)
Winmill decided to challenge the incumbent, Kim Wyman, after he saw her making decisions that were not in the best interest of Washington voters, such as when she agreed to provide some Washington voter data requested by Donald Trump’s bogus commission on voter fraud following the 2016 election.
“I thought that was a scary sign and something that should have been reevaluated from her office,” he said. (A majority of states around the country rebuffed requests in part or in full from the commission, which Trump later dismantled.)
Winmill says he also expects the Secretary of State to advocate for federal legislation to get more cybersecurity assistance, which he says Kim Wyman failed to do when she testified against H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2019. Wyman claimed H.R. 1 would actually hinder Washington’s progress on election security.
Winmill noted that H.R. 1 seeks to implement an automatic voter registration standard that goes above and beyond the system that Washington has created.
The bill also includes a host of provisions intended to protect the right to vote across the country, including funding for cybersecurity measures, prohibitions against foreign nationals advertising on social media, as well as a requirement that the President have a national strategy for election protection.
H.R. 1 was passed by the US House of Representatives in March 2019 and has yet to be considered in the United States Senate. It’s one of hundreds of bills that is sitting on top Republican Mitch McConnell’s desk.
Winmill felt strongly that a Democrat had to be in the 2020 race for Secretary of State. At the time he declared, no other Democratic challenger had stepped forward to take on Wyman. But this month, NPI’s Gael Tarleton, a veteran candidate and elected official, announced that she would seek the position.
Winmill suspended his campaign because he did not think it would be useful or productive for more than one Democratic candidate to be competing for the party’s support in a race the party has failed to win for over half a century.
“Gael is a respected public servant in the state and has a lot of experience that will translate very well to the office,” he said.
While also continuing to practice law, Winmill says he will now advise Gael’s campaign on policy issues going forward.
“I’ll continue to advocate for improvements to our voting systems and I’ll try to help Gael win so we can implement them,” he said.
He says his biggest hope for the office of Secretary of State, should Gael be elected, is for the office to be modernized, arguing that “in many ways, Kim Wyman is a twentieth century Secretary of State”. His hope is that “Gael will bring the Secretary of State’s office into the twenty-first century.”
This is how, he believes, Washington can combat the “new normal” in politics, which entails recognizing and addressing cybersecurity threats from abroad.
Winmill added that bad actors have made voting “another front in the political wars”. “[Our elections] should be about policies and ideas,” he said.
By modernizing the election office and hardening the state’s elections infrastructure, he believes Washington can be a national leader on election security.
Official filing for Secretary of State and other positions to be contested in the 2020 presidential elections will begin in about five months.
After that, the field of candidates for every position will be narrowed to two each in the August 2020 Top Two election. Voters will make the final selection in the November general election runoff and the winner will take office in January 2021.