Jeff Winmill
Attorney Jeff Winmill was a candidate for Secretary of State for several weeks (Photo courtesy of Jeff Winmill)

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.

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