State, county election leaders already battling against misinformation campaigns ahead of midterms
With campaign 2022 in full swing, both Washington’s Secretary of State and the head of King County elections are trying to assure the public that the election system is secure, while also trying to dispel mis- and disinformation about elections.
Both elections officials spoke Tuesday morning at a roundtable on election security held at the King County elections headquarters in Renton. Secretary of State Steve Hobbs and King County Elections Director Julie Wise both mentioned baseless and unproven claims of voter fraud from the 2020 election as one reason why misinformation was prevalent during this year’s primary cycle.
They also said they suspect that misinformation campaign will impact the general election cycle for the midterms over the coming month.
Both Hobbs and Wise said they are trying to get ahead of the game because they’re anticipating a lot of misinformation this election cycle.
Wise stressed that King County Elections has tabulation equipment and servers where all votes are stored and that system is air-gapped — a term commonly applied to a computer that has never been connected to the internet — and that the system is on a hardwired network and not connected to the internet.
Both election officials mentioned that people who question elections have often centered on the tabulating equipment and servers, or using the internet to change votes, or hacking into tabulation machines to do so.
The general assurance from Hobbs was that the election system is secure in Washington state and that the process statewide will be transparent and accessible. He said there will be a statewide awareness campaign about election security dubbed the “Vote with Confidence” campaign.
Hobbs also said there will be new resources to combat disinformation, such as information security and response systems to protect election infrastructure at state and county levels. There will also be expanded on-site reviews and more cyber protection for all Washington counties.
Hobbs said that Washington’s vote-by-mail system has worked for many cycles and even said that in-person voting in other states has often led to voter suppression or simply limited the ability of people to vote. He admitted that criticism this election cycle is inevitable.
“We continue to see levels of disinformation, particularly continued false narratives from the 2020 election. Already this year, we’ve had three major misinformation campaigns and we’ve had one cyber threat,” said Hobbs.
As the head of King County Elections, Wise emphasized that there is a dedicated information technology team at King County Elections that is certified in cyber security. She also said that all staff undergo cyber security training.
Wise added that systems and emails are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“Election security is not an area where you can check a box and be done. We have to be vigilant and on guard every single day as we know that those who wish to undermine our elections don’t just try once and then give up,” Wise said.
Wise also said that vote-by-mail creates a paper trail for votes by its very nature, dispelling criticism that hard copy trails for votes don’t exist. She also stressed that there are dozens of security cameras and personnel on site at King County Elections headquarters, along with physical barriers and secure storage areas for ballots. Web cameras monitor the vote tally so people can watch at any moment as staff member process ballots. Cameras have even been added in recent years and are live at all hours during the counting of votes.
Wise did stress that her office has been deluged with public records requests, many of which are asking for private voter information that cannot be shared. She said that the records requests come each and every month and often question the validity of the process.
Ballots will be sent out in a few weeks. Election Day is a little over a month away on Nov. 8, 2022.