As the general election fast approaches, the International Examiner sent a few questions to local election candidates. We will be posting their responses in a series of posts leading up to the election. Candidates are placed in alphabetical order and the International Examiner does not endorse any candidate.
Ballots have been sent out and the final day to return ballots is November 8 on election day. King County residents can drop off ballots at designated ballot boxes by 8 pm on election day, including one at Uwajimaya in the International District.
Our first Q&A is with the candidates for Secretary of State. The position is a hodgepodge of duties that come down to protecting government records and documents, improving participation in civics, and providing information about corporations and charities. The Office is most well known for supervising elections around the state and certifying the results.
The Secretary of State race comes down to two women, Tina Podlodowski and Kim Wyman, both with years of political experience. Podlodowski is a former Seattle City Council member and assisted Seattle Mayor Ed Murray with reforming the Seattle Police Department during his first few months in office. Wyman is the current Secretary of State and previously the Thurston County Elections Director for 10 years.
International Examiner: Asian-Americans have one of the lowest voter turnouts. What do you want to do to inform more Asian-Americans about voting?
Tina Podlodowski: My goal as Secretary of State is 100% of people participating in elections – and using voting as the entryway to increased civic engagement by Asian-Americans. In order to do that, we must understand the complete scope of the problem in every county and city. My first act in office will be to call for the first ever performance and equity audit of the election system in Washington – because we don’t just have one voting system, we have 39 different systems based on our 39 counties. Each is funded differently, staffed differently, and provides outreach to Asian-American communities in very disparate ways. We need consistency and access. From this information, we will have a road map of what changes need to happen in elections to ensure all people have equal access to register to vote, get culturally appropriate information on candidates and elections, and cast a ballot. Also, there needs to be a special emphasis in working with local ethnic media, community based organizations, and Asian-American youth. Finally, many Asian Americans, mostly first-generation immigrants, don’t speak English well or might not be familiar with the democratic process. I understand this challenge personally, as both of my parents were immigrants and English was not their first language. I will pay special attention to these voters.
Kim Wyman: Providing people information on how to vote, and ensuring that every eligible voter is registered are two essential tasks that my office is constantly working on.
We translate our voters guide into 17 different languages (including Chinese, Vietnamese, and others), which is above and beyond the 3 languages required by federal law. We are committed to ensuring that all voters get information. For example, we have a fully accessible application providing voter specific information, called “MyVote.” Unfortunately, the state legislature has not seen the value in funding to allow us to print and mail the Primary State Voter Pamphlet to all Washington households. We provide a Primary and General Voters’ Pamphlet online in addition to the printed General Voters’ Pamphlet. Ensuring that voters have information about their ballot is one of the best ways to increase turnout.
I’m proud of Washington’s voting system, but there is always more work to do. Another way to move turnout up is to work to pass Automatic Voter Registration and the Washington Voting Rights Act. The first would ensure that more people are registered, and the second one would help minority communities have better representation in governing. Despite misinformation being spread about my stance on the VRA, I strongly support it and have been working to improve it since I took office in 2013. We will be introducing our own version of it in 2017 and I believe I am the right person to bring Democrats and Republicans together to get it passed into law.
[Editor’s note: The Washington Voting Rights Act aims to mitigate polarized voting to by instigating a change the election system so there is a fairer chance for minority groups to be elected. For example, changing from at-large elections to district elections like was done in Seattle. The bill has died in the Republican-controlled State Senate for the four years it has been introduced to the Legislature. According to the Seattle Times (who endorses Wyman), Wyman saw the most recent version of the Act as a policy so she didn’t offer her opinion and now promises to work with members of the senate and house to pass the Act in 2017.]
IE: Why is it important for people of color, and specifically Asian-Americans, to vote?
Podlodowski:In a democracy your vote is your voice, and the voices of Asian-Americans must be heard at the ballot box. In Washington State, too many disenfranchised voters – youth, seniors on fixed income, recent citizens for whom English is a second language, rural residents and lots more – have barriers to voting that have resulted in 1.5M unregistered (yet eligible) voters, and dismal 38% turnout in the last general election. I believe the job of Secretary of State is to have 100% of eligible citizens registered, and 100% of registered voters voting. For the issues that matter to Asian Americans – education, small business, immigration reform and so much more – voting matters. The AAPI community is the fastest growing minority group in America—one that is a key part of the social fabric of who we are as a nation. The voices of the AAPI community must be heard.
Wyman: It is particularly important for people of color and Asian-Americans to vote because in our representative democracy, your vote is the best way to communicate your beliefs and your values. Minorities who have experienced persecution and discrimination know this particularly well – voting is an essential step to protecting your rights.
Voters of color know better than most that fair elections can’t just be a buzzword – they have to be a reality. Election officials have to be strongly committed to being impartial in administering their duties, and they have to also inspire confidence in all voters. Our elections are more important than partisan politics, because people can protect their fundamental rights by voting.
IE: Lastly, anything you’d like our readers to know (about you, your campaign, etc…)?
Podlodowski: I’ve stood with Asian-Americans to fight for social and economic justice for the last 30 years, including during my time on Seattle City Council and in our efforts to defeat I-200 . I’m honored to be endorsed by Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment (APACE), Governor Gary Locke, State Senator Bob Hasegawa, State Senator Pramila Jayapal, State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, State Representative Cindy Ryu and other community leaders like Sharon Chen, Crystal Anguay, Joan Yoshitomi, Frankie Irigon and many more. As Secretary of State, I’ll continue that work to make voting equitable in Washington State.
[Editor’s note: I-200 passed in 1998 and prevents “government entities from discriminating or granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin”]
Wyman: Washington is a national voting leader, with an accessible, strong and secure election system. We consistently rank above most other states in turnout, ballot access, and security. I’m proud to have run my office in an impartial and accurate manner, in keeping with the tradition of the office. Our elections must be accurate, secure, and accessible. That has been my goal in every one of the more than 100 elections I have overseen. I’m proud to have the endorsements of Democrats, Republicans and independents and nearly 60 county election officials, who are similarly committed to serving the voters and ensuring fair and secure elections. Washington’s voting system has never been better, and I hope to continue to build on and improve it.