BEND — Protecting the integrity of voting and democracy as a whole in the 2020 election were the major themes in the debate among the four democratic candidates for Oregon Secretary of State on Sunday.
State Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, joined state Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, and Ryan Wruck, of Salem, at the Sunriver Resort during The 10th Biennial Oregon Summit this weekend. Terrebonne resident Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who ran and lost the race for the 2nd Congressional District to Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, last year, also joined the debate.
Whoever claims the nomination will then run in the November 2020 election to replace Secretary of State Bev Clarno, who was appointed after Republican Dennis Richardson died of brain cancer earlier this year. Clarno has said she will not seek re-election.
Much of the debate focused on what candidates would do to improve voter accessibility and keep elections trustworthy in a time when election tampering by foreign governments is a growing concern.
“2020 is going to be all about protecting and securing our democracy, and our ability to participate in it is very important,” McLeod-Skinner said.
McLeod-Skinner, Hass and Williamson found common ground in supporting tactics like same-day registration, changing postmark deadlines to make sure rural votes get counted and having more election materials in several languages to make voting more inclusive.
“Not having restrictions does not mean you have access,” Williamson said.
But Wruck, a 28-year-old office manager, said easier registration could come with modernizing and simplifying the voter registration website.
For Wruck, having more people vote in an election is a crucial part of keeping the system honest.
“The design of a website can mean the difference between voters and nonvoters,” Wruck said.
McLeod-Skinner said if she were elected she would appoint an election security officer to “think like a hacker” and protect state elections from foreign influence. Hass said while paper, mail-in ballots makes Oregon less susceptible than other states to attacks, he would advocate to have the best technology available to protect the state’s database of voters.
Williamson said making sure the state election process is safeguarded is a priority because people trusting the system is crucial to making it work.
“We need all Oregonians to believe it’s the safest system possible. Because if they don’t believe it … they’re not going to vote,” she said. “(President) Trump and his actions have called into question our democratic system and process, and he’s abusing this power to keep people away from voting … and that’s part of the problem.”
How ballot initiatives are written and reviewed was also folded into the conversation about public trust.
A decision from the secretary of state’s elections division to reject the initiatives to tighten forestry laws because they related to more than one subject has raised the ire of environmentalists and, for Hass, has called the initiative review process into question.
“If elected, that will never happen, and I will make sure it never happens again,” Hass said.
Williamson said she supports the state’s initiative process because it lifts the voice of every resident, but she said the process needs to be protected and transparent.
“We need to assure the initiative process doesn’t get abused or manipulated or twisted by powerful, wealthy elite,”
No Republicans have filed yet to run for secretary of state.