For secretary of state, PubliCola picks incumbent Steve Hobbs, although his opponent, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, is also highly qualified for this position.
Julie Anderson, the nonpartisan candidate for this technically partisan job, is versed in election law, knowledgeable about both the well-known and obscure aspects of the secretary of state’s office, and will do a capable job if elected. As Pierce County auditor since 2009, Anderson has ample experience overseeing elections, maintaining and ensuring access to public records, and implementing complex IT upgrades—boring-sounding stuff that’s critical to any functioning 21st century democracy. She wants to modernize the office, which still has one foot in the 20th century; for example, she proposes creating alternatives to handwritten signatures for voter validation and preserving complex digital documents in their original form, so that an interactive map, for example, doesn’t show up in the state archives as a static image.
Hobbs, a longtime state legislator appointed secretary of state by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2021, has also proven his qualifications for the position, establishing a new division to combat election disinformation and taking down several cybersecurity threats in real time. To address racial disparities in ballot rejections (and to ensure more ballots are counted), Hobbs has directed his office to develop a system that will send text messages to voters whose signatures have been rejected, giving them more time to contact their local elections office and make sure their vote counts.
In our interview, Hobbs also emphasized the need to expand access to voting information and ballots in languages other than English; currently, a county only has to provide voting materials in other languages if more than 5 percent of its population “are members of a single language minority group, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well,” according to federal voting rights law. The longtime ex-legislator said he would lobby lawmakers to fund additional voting materials for minority language groups and hire trusted community messengers to distribute voting information, a tactic that has worked in other arenas, including fighting misinformation about COVID vaccines.
Both Anderson and Hobbs are strong candidates. So why are we endorsing Hobbs over Anderson? It goes back to that seemingly simple label: “Nonpartisan.” In an ideal world, the job of overseeing elections would not only be nonpartisan, it probably wouldn’t even be elected—it’s pretty weird, when you think about it, that we fickle, partisan voters get to decide who holds a fundamentally administrative position. But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a hyperpartisan, fragile democracy in which one party believes in free and fair elections and the other believes COVID was a hoax and that Donald Trump won the 2020 election despite no evidence of fraud. In this context, in this election year, declaring yourself “nonpartisan” is a denial of the real forces that threaten our democracy—not just against cyber warfare and election disinformation, but the future of free and fair elections. For this reason, PubliCola picks Democrat Steve Hobbs for secretary of state.
PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.