Sec of State: Social media reach is ‘one of the biggest challenges’ facing election officials

Nov 2, 2021, 12:17 PM | Updated: 4:00 pm
ballot, election...
A ballot drop box in King County. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

If your Washington ballot is still sitting on your kitchen table, you have until 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 2 — Election Day — to get it in a drop box. It can also be returned by mail, but must be postmarked on or before Nov. 2.

Check back for local election results

For the last Election Day with Kim Wyman as Secretary of State before she takes a new role with the Biden administration, she joined the Gee and Ursula Show to speak to Washington voters.

“The 39 county election offices across our state are working very hard today to make sure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to participate,” Wyman said. “If you haven’t registered or need to get a replacement ballot, you can go to their office today and get one and take care of that.”

“We want to make sure that people get their ballots in on time,” she added. “They need to be in a drop box by 8 o’clock tonight or have today’s postmark on it. And make sure the signature matches because we do check every signature against the one on file. If you can’t remember what that looks like, look on your driver’s license or ID card because that’s more than likely the signature we’re checking against.”

The counties, she says, will be making sure that they are accounting for every ballot.

“They are making sure that every eligible vote is counted accurately and the security measures in place are going to ensure that, and people can observe that process,” Wyman said.

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Trust in elections

Host Ursula Reutin shared that a national poll by PRRI finds that 70% of Republican voters firmly believe still that the 2020 election was stolen, and 30% believe violence may be necessary to save the country.

From Wyman’s perspective now, as someone who has looked over statewide elections and is now going to a federal level, how fragile is our trust in elections at this point in American history? And what can we do to change that?

“I think it’s very fragile,” Wyman replied. “I think we’ve seen this happen in a number of elections — 2000 was certainly the first time the country learned about [hanging] chads, and that vote counting really does matter. We’ve had high profile elections since, from the 2004 governor’s race to the 2018 governor’s race in Georgia — to be bipartisan, so you can kind of see both sides.”

“When people lose close elections or lose elections that they thought they had in the bag — like 2016, Democrats couldn’t — there was probably 30% of the population that couldn’t contemplate Hillary Clinton could lose. And I think in 2020, you could say that about the 30% on the right that couldn’t contemplate that President Trump could lose. And I think that that emotion can overtake people, and they don’t necessarily take in data in a non-emotional way.”

Wyman says it’s easier sometimes to believe that an outside actor fixed our election, for example, than believing the campaign just wasn’t run well.

“That starts to shift people’s attention to election administration, and so they want to hold election officials accountable because, again, it’s easier to believe that they committed felony offenses and did their job in an illegal way than maybe your campaign lost,” she said.

As far as how that trust is rebuilt, Wyman says it will come down to transparency.

“That is the bedrock of American democracy and American elections,” she said. “Election officials invite the naysayers into their operations and watch it. Let’s show you how we build in the safeguards. Let’s show you how we secure your vote. Let’s show you how we prevent fraud. And I think the more we do that, the more people will at least start trusting future elections.”

Related to trust, Wyman says social media influence absolutely plays a role in elections.

“That is … gasoline on the fire: You can have a platform and really have a larger reach with social media than you did back in 2004 in the Rossi / Gregoire race,” Wyman said. “Before you would rant and rave to your friends and your family and maybe your neighbors, and that reach was dependent on your standing, I guess, in your local community. Now you can go on social media and you may have 1,000 followers that you can put a link to a ‘credible’ news source that no one’s ever heard of. And now that gives legitimacy to whatever point you’re trying to make.”

“I think that a real challenge election officials have right now is overcoming … misinformation and disinformation, when it is taking facts and twisting them to a different narrative,” she added. “That’s one of the biggest challenges we have moving forward.”

Since 2004, and past elections, Wyman noted how far our elections system has advanced.

“We have tools in place now that we didn’t have in 2004,” she said. “And that’s the sea change that really has upped our security game and our accountability game. In 2004, every election office in the state couldn’t tell you exactly how many ballots they had processed and what happened to them. Today, all 39 counties, including King, can not only tell you how many ballots were received, what happened to each one of them, was it counted or not? If it wasn’t counted, why the county canvassing board rejected it.”

“Those are things we couldn’t do in 2004 because we didn’t have the controls in place,” she added.

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Voter turnout

On Election Day, in a non-presidential year, voter turnout is typically lower than in a presidential election. Statewide, about 40% of voters are expected to cast a ballot for the Nov. 2, 2021, general election. Why is that number so low?

“I’ve done this a long time, and this is the conversation that we seem to have every post presidential election is why did turn out drop off so much? And it’s hard to say,” Wyman said. “The irony is that the almost 3,000 positions that are on the ballot this year affect everyone’s daily life more than president ever will, even Congress probably, and yet most voters won’t turn in a ballot today and will not have their voice heard.”

“And yet everything about your local election — from the mayor who’s going to decide the quality of the roads you drive on, the speed limits, what books your kids read in school by your school boards, how fast the first responder gets to you by your local fire commission — all of those things are going to be decided today, and yet the majority of our citizens and the state won’t weigh in,” she said. “Then [they] wonder why they don’t have a government that represents them.”

“I don’t have an answer by the way,” she noted in response to why voter turnout is low.

The other question she doesn’t have a clear answer for is why younger people tend to turn their ballots in late. Though she did admit that she has yet to turn in her own ballot and planned to do so after the interview. A major factor, she thinks, is just how busy your life is.

“My two children are in their 20s and 30s and, yeah, they ‘ve got a lot going on and things that are more important than putting a ballot in,” she said. “Although my son has already voted on the Seattle election, he’s now a resident up there. So it’s hard to say.”

“I think people’s lives are busy and other things are higher priorities,” Wyman said.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Sec of State: Social media reach is ‘one of the biggest challenges’ facing election officials