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With over 2 million ballots now in, Washington doubles down on election security

Washington Sec. of State Kim Wyman during a Monday press conference. (TVW)

Washington officials gathered Monday to deliver an update on what the state is doing to strengthen its election security and snuff out efforts to spread disinformation.

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“We want to make sure our voters have the right information so they can participate in this election,” Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman said.

Wyman detailed state and local efforts to ensure that election security is strong, and not just when it comes to warding off hacking attempts.

“Our preparedness extends way beyond cyber-security,” she noted, pointing to an incident over the weekend as proof, when a semi-truck slammed into a Mill Creek ballot box.

The box was dislodged and bent, but all ballots inside were safe and remained uncompromised. That same box was also hit by a vehicle in September, which local officials are blaming on an adjacent traffic circle that “seems difficult for trucks to navigate.”

Meanwhile, several counties have enacted more stringent security measures of their own. In Clark County, an additional firewall has been installed specifically for its election office, as well as a physical security system on all the windows and doors at the office.

“We are very sensitive to security issues and feel really confident in what we’ve done,” Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said Monday.

Many of these efforts date back to at least 2016, with county election offices spending the last four years ensuring that ballots can be turned in and tabulated without complications.

“Washington state is ahead of the curve on many aspects,” Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton said. “We don’t have the same general worries other states have at this point in time.”

That’s seen in how the state tabulates its results once ballots are received. Results from each of the state’s 39 counties are counted 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.

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County election offices have also had to adjust for the ongoing pandemic, both in terms of how they interact with the public, and how they manage their own staffs. In Stevens County, that’s actually led to hiring more trained workers, sorting them into several teams, and then keeping those teams separated at all times.

“If one team has a positive [COVID] case, I have two or even three backup teams that can continue on,” Stevens County Auditor Lori Larsen said.

The state has already seen unprecedented levels of voter turnout, with more ballots continuing to pour in every day.

As of Saturday, over 2 million ballots had been turned in across Washington, totaling 41.7% of all voters. At that same point in 2016, 265,726 ballots had been turned in, totaling just 6.2% of the state’s registered voters at the time. The state didn’t hit that 41% benchmark in 2016 until four days before Election Day.

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