Thursday, June 13, 2024

Black Female Secretaries of State on Defending Democracy, Civics and More

Kimberly A Bassett

*Oftentimes the importance of state and local elections is overshadowed by the grandiosity of elections that are considered of greater importance to the national body politick. However, the “devil” is indeed in the details.

And as the boundaries of democracy continue to warp under the weight of conservative political ideology centered on “stolen” elections, gerrymandering and reducing ballot access become a strategic commonality of Republicans on a state level, the details of why some elections are far more important than they appear.

The office of the Secretary of State in the states of Ohio, New Jersey, and the District of Colombia are indicative of such a position.

Even though Donald Trump won the state in the last presidential election, the right’s playbook is to use the phantom of fraud to promote policies that are, at best, anti-democratic.

Recently, EURweb spoke with Secretary of State Democratic candidate from the state of Ohio Chelsea Clark, New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way and Secretary of State of Washington D.C. Kimberly Bassett about the differences of their offices relative to their peers in other states, defending democracy from within and their duties as chief civic officer to their constituents.

the Democrat candidate for Secretary of State in Ohio, about the understated importance of the office, why she differs from the incumbent as well as the election strategy of the right.

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Ohio Democratic Secretary of State candidate Chelsea Clark
Ohio Democratic Secretary of State candidate Chelsea Clark What is the significance of the Secretary of State in Ohio?

Chelsea Clark: “Different states have different functionalities, but here the Secretary State has two maybe three primary functions,” explained Clark. “One being the chief elections officer which is typically familiar to people. The second is campaign financing. The third is acting as a business gateway where business file their other filings. Those are the three broad areas.”

“What’s also very important is how this role can play an active part in civic engagement and what civic education can even look like in that state,” she continued. “That’s a really unique piece that we don’t talk about enough. With my candidacy I hope that’s something that we’ll elevate and that’s a space that I really care about that we’ve not seen the necessary engagement from that seat.” Do you feel that this aspect of the office has ever been properly utilized?

Chelsea Clark: “No, I think that largely these things are by design. There’s also legislation that’s being put forth that says community organizations now have to limit educational practices in the voting arena. ” And this is all part of the Republican/Trump strategy that has been ongoing.

Chelsea Clark: “There’s been different legislations that have hit states following the historic turnout of the 2020 election,” said Clark.

“We had the most folks that voted, ever. In the state of Ohio we have a little bitty piece of this come out in some bills. They haven’t had any teeth, but our current Secretary of State supported both of these bills. One that’s very long and has this little piece in it. The second bill that had come out was the one that limited ballot boxes to just one per county.” Please explain these tactics in detail.

Chelsea Clark: “What they do is they have these broad sweeping bills and they tap this little limitation that make it really difficult not only to be educated but even to get to the ballot box,”

“What is happening is it’s no longer poll taxes in literacy tests,” said Clark. “They’re trying to stop you from voting while you’re still in school and still in the community. They’re going to set up obstacles every step along the way.” Talk about the significance of your candidacy as a Black woman.

Chelsea Clark: “I think it’s extremely impactful. Right now there are six state seats and zero of them are controlled by a woman, that’s with the Republican party whose in control right now. The Secretary of State seat has never been held by a Black Democrat, male or female.”

“As far as our six state seats, I would be only the ninth or tenth woman to serve in our 220 year history to serve in one of the six state seats.” From afar, the state of Ohio appears to have more soul than a state that voted for Trump would have. But facts are facts. Ohio is red.

Chelsea Clark: “You see the Queen City, and Black people doing this and that, and also we’ve got HBCUs. We’ve got a pretty healthy NAACP that’s throughout the state, you’ve got the Urban Leagues that are doing their thing. On its face it doesn’t reflect the culture in a political sense.” What are some primaries obstacles to your winning the election?

Chelsea Clark: “We have a very small minority of about two percent that controls the economy, and now they want to control democracy as well? Oh no, they’re not going to get both!”

“These elections have now become auctions. There’s an extreme barrier to entry. As a woman, not only has it become difficult to fundraise in the state of Ohio, or be trusted or believed in as an intelligent individual capable of doing XY and Z, but you’ve also got the fact that I’m a Black woman at that.”

“Typically there’s no generational wealth when it comes to our folks. You’re going up against a money machine and a lot of times the dollars indicate the win.”

“What we’re trying to do is change that narrative but it takes a lot of groundswells to accomplish that. We’re talking about 40 million has already been spent on their side of the ticket. That’s a lot of money and when I say auction it means it’s essentially the highest bidder.”

“I think there’s moral and integrity element that we’re not talking about. MY opponent has completely leaned into the idea that the 2020 election was mishandled. Ohio was plus-eight for Trump I think. Out of 5.9 million folks who voted we only had 27 intentionally fraudulent votes.”

“To make your campaign about defending the democracy from fraud is false. I think you have to believe in democracy, I think you have to believe in the facts and when you’re overseeing an election, a crucial role as secretaries of state is believing that. The problem with the current Secretary of State is that he says these things but then does the opposite.” Black voters, contrary to popular belief, will come out to vote if given someone and something to vote for. But many are tired.

“Black voters have been constant, Black voters have come through on a number of occasions, especially Black women voters,” she told EURweb. “For a very long time, we’ve been needed and needed, and we’ve pushed ourselves and our electorate to the bring in order to be able to bring about change throughout this country.”

“Democracy needs us and cannot survive without us. And for a long time we’ve been misused. So we’ve made mistakes and realized that we have to play it a different way, which means supporting Black women actually running in elections for these positions if we’re going to take it to a higher level and it’s something that we can all get on board with and trust.” What is your primary message you would like for weary voters to consider?

Chelsea Clark:  “This government is not just designed for the loud voices, this government is not just designed for the rich voices, this government is designed for all of us. We’re supposed to make space and be responsive to all of us. I represent a whole lot of all of us.”

New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way
New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way (to New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way):  “I want to ask you about the nuances of being Secretary of State in the state of New Jersey because there are different duties and different ways for individuals to get in that office, depending upon the state, So, what are your nuances as far as what do you need to do to help the people of New Jersey?” 

Secretary Way: “OK sure, I’m glad you mentioned that. You know there are secretaries who are elected by the majority, and then there are secretaries such as me who are appointed.”

“So, I was nominated in 2018 by Governor Murphy and then confirmed through the Senate and I am up for reconfirmation now as Governor Murphy, who was successful in winning his election last year, renominated me because I’m a constitutional officer.” Tell me about some of your duties in the state of New Jersey. 

Secretary Way: “I serve as our Chief Elections Officer making certain that you know our voters, I make sure people get fair and free access to the ballot box, but in addition to my duties as Chief Election Officer.”

“I oversee the Historical Commission, the Cultural Commission of state museums, the Council on the Arts I have the Business Action Center, several faith-based initiatives, a center which deals with the Hispanic policy and research and development.” 

“In a nutshell, the office of the New Jersey Secretary of State seeks to enhance the overall quality and vitality of life for our residents in the areas of culture, history, arts, and the economy.” “As chief Elections Officer and as a woman of African descent in America, could you tell me about the importance of that role as far as getting people to understand their power? 

Secretary Way:  “Sure, you know I. I think about how come throughout the majority of our country’s existence a person like me wasn’t allowed to cast a vote, let alone oversee her state’s election, so representation certainly matters in this space, and I think it’s powerful for black voters to understand that there is a Secretary of State.” 

“So as the safeguard or protector of their right to vote, I know that myself and my team, we always want to be the trusted voices of election integrity within our respective communities and that’s why we do outreach initiatives.” 

Washington DC Secretary of State Kimberly A Bassett
Washington DC Secretary of State Kimberly A Bassett (to Secretary Bassett): I’d like for you to talk about the particulars of being Secretary of State in Washington DC on the national level.

What are your duties to the people of Washington DC and what are some of the ways that you get things done?

Secretary Bassett: “So as you know, every Secretary of State’s office has a different function. There are about maybe 15 secretaries of State and Commonwealth that don’t have voting as one of their one of the things like they do in states because we’re the District of Columbia. We have a Board of Elections that’s separate from the Secretary of State’s office, but the Secretary of State’s office in DC does have a lot of other functions.”

“I have the function of the Notary office in the district. I also have the function of the archivist of the district preserving the history of DC residents. I also have the function of administrative issuances. So that’s where all the mayor’s orders, rules making codifications, all of those types of things come through our office.”

“We’re also I’m also responsible for the ceremonial office. I protect the mayor’s seal and all. Of these things, it’s my responsibility contracts to be the final person that looks at those before they’re signed by the mayor.” Historically, Washington D.C. has always been known as a “Chocolate” City However, that has changed over the years.

Secretary Bassett:  “Right now and historically, Washington DC has been very black, so a black Secretary of State may not be so much a historic thing here considering the type of diversity that has historically been in the District of Columbia. DC is less Black today but historically we are Chocolate City.

“Our neighborhoods are very diverse and we still have a really robust community of African African Americans in this city. You know, like any city, I’m very proud that we have lots of African Americans who are doing amazing things.”

“As you know, we painted Black Lives Matter on our street right in front of the White House and we’ve suffered with insurrectionists in our city. It was really traumatic for lots of our residents.”

(editorial note):  Chelsea Clark recently ran unopposed in the Democratic Primary her bid to become the first Black woman to be Secretary of State in Ohio. She faces off against the incumbent in November. We wish her success in all her future political endeavors.

Tahesha Way and Kimberly A. Bassett are currently serving in their respective roles as Secretary of State for their constituents.

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