Democrats will remember a sinking feeling in 2000 when they discovered that the woman overseeing Florida’s presidential vote count – Secretary of State Katherine Harris – was a highly partisan Republican working for George W. Bush’s election.
Washington Republicans will remember their own suspicions after the 2004 governor’s race when they saw King County’s elections office – supervised by the Democratic county executive, Ron Sims – coming up with satchel after satchel of uncounted ballots that tilted toward Democrat Chris Gregoire.
The lesson: Hard-core partisanship and vote-counting are a dangerous mix. The legitimacy of close elections depends on public confidence that the people handling the ballots are honest brokers.
Example: The 2004 contest between Gregoire and Dino Rossi ended in a statistical tie. Her infinitesimal margin – 129 votes out of 2.9 million – was accepted in part because the statewide election was overseen by a soft-edged, even-handed Republican, Secretary of State Sam Reed, who had the trust of just about everybody.
This is why we favor Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman and state Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup in the Aug. 7 primary for secretary of state. Kastama is a centrist Democrat, and Wyman is a Reed-style Republican; in a tight spot, either of them would be above partisan suspicion.
Their Democratic opponents, former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and former state Sen. Kathleen Drew, are easily up to the administrative demands of the office. Our concern is that there’s not a crack of daylight between them and their party.
Drew has the official endorsement of the state Democrats. That’s not a negative in itself. But her endorsements comprise page after page of Democratic organizations, labor unions and politicians. She might not enjoy widespread trust among Republicans in a potentially tainted election.
Same goes for Nickels, though he hasn’t nailed down the support of the Democratic establishment the way Drew has.
Either of them would probably perform well, but they wouldn’t arrive at the office free of Republican suspicion.
Kastama and Wyman don’t raise the same kind of partisan hackles. Kastama – a champion of elections reform in the Legislature – has frequently broken with his caucus over the years and has probably caused more heartburn in his own party than among Republicans.
Wyman, the lone Republican in this primary, has truly impressive credentials. As long-time auditor of heavily Democratic Thurston County, she is a master of ballot-handling procedures; her office is well known for running clean and accurate elections.
Even more telling is her stunning endorsement by more than 50 current and former county auditors across the state, many of them Democrats. They know the technical side of elections inside and out; they also know Wyman.
She and Kastama are the candidates most likely to fill Reed’s big, politically neutral shoes.