This year, in addition to contests for the United States Senate and Washington’s Supreme Court, voters in the Evergreen State will see something they don’t normally see on midterm ballots: a special election for Secretary of State.
The position of Secretary of State is one of nine independently elected statewide posts in the executive department. The Secretary of State’s portfolio of responsibilities includes the administration of elections, the state library and archives, corporate and charitable registrations, and the apostilles program.
All holders of executive department positions in Washington serve four year terms, and their regularly scheduled elections are in presidential years. Resignations from statewide executive positions are rare, which is why it has been a long, long time since an executive department position was contested in a midterm election in Washington State. But it will happen this year, owing to Kim Wyman’s departure to take a job in the Biden administration last autumn.
Wyman’s successor Steve Hobbs, a former state senator, is the first Democratic Secretary of State in over fifty years. Hobbs was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee shortly after Wyman announced that she was taking a job with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). He took office on November xth, 2021.
Hobbs is running to keep the seat in Democratic hands this autumn, and he’s drawn two credible challengers so far: former Senate colleague Keith Wagoner (R‑39th District: Snohomish County, Skagit County, rural King County) and Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, who is running as an independent.
With the field having taken shape, we asked voters participating in our most recent statewide research poll (conducted February 17th-18th) who they would vote for if the election for Secretary of State were being held now.
A narrow plurality of respondents (33%) said they would vote for Hobbs, the Democratic incumbent, while almost as many said Wagoner (30%), his Republican challenger. Anderson, the independent, garnered 11%, and 25% were not sure.
The candidates’ collective lack of name familiarity and Anderson’s presence in the race could explain why a quarter of respondents were undecided. It’s not uncommon for “nonpartisan” races to have high numbers of undecided voters in advance of an election, but partisan races usually have fewer undecided voters.
None of the contenders have appeared on a statewide general election ballot before. Hobbs has previously run statewide (for Lieutenant Governor in 2016), but was eliminated in the Top Two election. Anderson has run countywide in Pierce County, but not statewide. Wagoner has appeared on ballots only at the local level (in the Skagit Valley city of Sedro-Woolley) and legislative district level.
Democratic candidates usually have an advantage in statewide races in Washington, but many voters here (particularly those in Thurston, Snohomish and Pierce counties) are used to voting Republican for Secretary of State, and 2022 is a midterm cycle, rather than a presidential one.
Those dynamics could yield a competitive race this summer and autumn.
Hobbs and Wagoner each have about three times the level of support that Anderson has. Unless Anderson can improve her position before the end of July, she faces elimination in the August Top Two election. The most likely scenario for the final round at this juncture is a Hobbs versus Wagoner matchup, but it is possible that the field of candidates could grow larger because the deadline to enter the race has not yet passed. (It’s the third Friday in May.)
Here’s the full text of the question we asked, and the answers again:
QUESTION: If the special election for Washington Secretary of State were being held today and the candidates were Democrat Steve Hobbs, Republican Keith Wagoner, and independent Julie Anderson, who would you vote for?
- Steve Hobbs (D): 33%
- Keith Wagoner (R): 30%
- Julie Anderson (I): 11%
- Not sure: 25%
Our survey of 700 likely 2022 Washington State voters was in the field from Thursday, February 17th through Friday, February 18th, 2022.
It utilizes a blended methodology, with automated phone calls to landlines (50%) and text message answers from cell phone only respondents (50%).
The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute and has a margin of error of +/- 3.7% at the 95% confidence interval.
Hobbs has stated in speeches and interviews that cybersecurity and combating disinformation are among his top initial priorities as Secretary of State.
Hobbs is currently championing a bill in the Legislature supported by NPI that would restrict the use of synthetic media in campaigns for elective office. As summarized by nonpartisan staff in the Senate, the bill does three things:
- Requires a disclosure when any manipulated audio or visual media of a candidate is used in an electioneering communication.
- Creates a cause of action for candidates whose voices or likenesses appear in synthetic media distributed without disclosure.
- Provides exceptions for parody and news reporting.
The bill was voted out of the Senate hours before the chamber of origin cutoff arrived on Tuesday, February 15th (SB 5817). Wagoner was among several Republican senators who crossed over to support the bill. It’s now in the House.
While Wagoner and Hobbs may agree on this legislation, Wagoner has previously echoed Republican attacks on election integrity by claiming that there is “mistrust in the voting system for the state and the nation.”
And, unlike Kim Wyman, who declined to publicly support Donald Trump, Wagoner is a Trump backer. Wagoner told The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield back in November of 2020: ”I want every legitimate vote counted and will accept the results when they are… I would be thrilled if it would be Donald Trump.”
As we know, every legitimate vote was counted and the result was a Biden/Harris victory, both in Washington State and in the Electoral College.
Wagoner’s enthusiastic support for Trump could be a big problem for his Secretary of State candidacy this summer and autumn. Washingtonians may have been willing to entrust Kim Wyman with another four year term, but will they want a Trump backer overseeing the 2024 presidential election in Washington State?