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How Washington is fighting back against attempts to hack ballots

Test ballots pop out of a vote counting machine in Renton. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A week ago, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman told KIRO Radio that the state’s election system routinely faces faces tens of thousands of hacking attempts daily. But how exactly is Washington’s system designed to fight those attacks? Wyman stopped in again to detail the various measures in place.

“The biggest thing is we moved to the VoteWA system, and so this has enabled us not only to build a stronger firewall, more robust security, and monitoring systems around it, but now … any user that gets into our system, they have to be pre-approved,” Wyman told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

‘Tens of thousands’ of attempts daily to hack Washington’s elections

VoteWA is system that was first enacted for August’s primary election, featuring a handful of new security measures to ensure results aren’t altered, hacked, or tampered with in any way.

Results from each of the state’s 39 counties are tabulated from paper ballots, and then transferred to an air-gapped machine (i.e. a computer not connected to the internet). The results are then transferred to a flash drive, which is plugged into an internet-enabled computer to transmit the final results.

“All of the tabulation systems are at the counties — they’re not connected to the internet in any way,” Wyman said.

The focus on election security really kicked in after the 2016 election, when foreign actors staged a hacking attempt against Washington’s system.

What is preventing voter fraud in Washington state?

“We started seeing activity that was not normal (in 2016),” Wyman told Ross earlier in October. “We reported it to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and later found out that it was Russian actors. At the time though, we were pretty certain that it was a foreign IP address and we kind of suspected Russia.”

“Fast forward over the last three years, we’ve had a big focus on cybersecurity,” Wyman added.

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