Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, whose public-service career spans more than 30 years in a county and state government, has been selected by GOVERNING magazine and online service as one of America’s top officials of the year.
Reed’s citation primarily focuses on his even-handed conduct of the nation’s closest gubernatorial election in 2004 and his advocacy of election reform in the years that followed.
“Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed … exuded fairness in managing a disputed gubernatorial election in 2004, then reformed the administration of elections in his state,” the magazine said in announcing his selection on Monday.
Reed is one of eight honorees drawn from nominees representing state, city and county government staffers and elected officials who have demonstrated “a notable positive impact.” Reed and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are the two statewide elected officials honored this year. Others include a state lawmaker, a mayor, and staffers from city, county and state government. From a potential field of tens of thousands aross the country, nominations came from readers, experts in public and private leadership, and the editorial staff.
Reed called the award “an amazing honor,” and said he shared the accolades with state and county election officials and state lawmakers and the governor who used the hard-learned lessons from the 2004 election to reform the election system. Together, they passed and implemented hundreds of improvements, created a statewide voter registration database, improved training of election workers, moved the state primary earlier in the summer, and made the system more effective, efficient and accountable.
“One of my real passions has been promoting fair, accurate, accessible, secure elections, and really getting people involved in their government and their communities,” said Reed, who was handily re-elected to a third four-year term last November. “This national recognition inspires us to redouble our efforts and be a role model. The work of reform and improvement never ends.”
Award winners are profiled in the new edition of GOVERNING. They will be honored at a dinner in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 19.
The article on Reed, headlined “Counting on Fairness,” notes that America has had a number of high-profile ultra-close races in the past decade, putting the secretaries of state in the bull’s eye.
“When an election teeters on a razor’s edge, they may be tempted to use their powers to nudge the result. Sam Reed didn’t do that,” the article says. Two recounts and multiple lawsuits from both parties ensued, and Democrat Gregoire eked out a 133-vote margin of victory after a hand recount and a six-month election challenge in Chelan County Superior Court.
“What’s most telling about how Reed handled the situation is that both parties were angry with him at one time or another. He followed instincts for fairness, not gamesmanship.”
The same penchant for independence led him to champion a new Top 2 Primary system, over the strenuous objection of both parties, to restore voters’ rights to vote their favorite for each office, without regard to party label, the article says.
“It’s a system, he likes to say, that allows citizens to vote for the person – not the political party.”
The magazine hailed what founder Peter Harkness called “extraordinary contributions to good governance … and a tradition of excellence and service.”
Editor Alan Ehrenhalt added, “This year’s public officials have thrived in the face of remarkable challenges … and displayed poise, wisdom and ingenuity. “Today, with every government grappling with the effect of a prolonged recession, their examples prove that strong, smart leadership is possible in the most difficult of circumstances.”