Elections Director: Congress needs to act for election security

Jul 18, 2023, 3:41 PM

elections security...

An election worker opens envelopes containing vote-by-mail ballots. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP) (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

With more than a year before the next major election cycle begins, the behind-the-scenes work of election security is just getting started, according to the Director of King County Elections.

Julie Wise, who is also a member of Issue One’s Faces of Democracy, said she’s concerned about cybersecurity risks in the upcoming election and is working to increase safety.

Efforts to deceive are a top concern among state election officials heading into 2024

In an interview with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien on Seattle’s Morning News, Wise detailed her plans to boost election integrity with a request for funding from the federal government.

Wise was first elected Elections Director in 2015. She was the first election administrator in the country to invite the Department of Homeland Security to do an audit of her county’s ballot processing facility and physical security of ballots throughout the chain of custody.

Wise specifically pointed to the security issues surrounding the 2016 election, saying that these types of digital threats have not stopped, even as the department works to prevent any interference in the election.

“Cybersecurity has posed a risk in elections really since 2016 and is a growing threat. We know that foreign adversaries like Russia, China, and Iran are already plotting to tamper with this upcoming 2024 presidential election,” Wise said. “Hackers are constantly learning and evolving when we increase security and block one tactic. They don’t just give up, right? They try something new. So we’ve got to always be on our toes. We’ve got to be vigilant.”

When prompted if there really was that much evidence of attempted foreign interference in our elections, Wise explained while there have been many attempts to influence elections in Washington state, there has been little impact as the election commission and the Secretary of State work to protect election integrity.

“Election offices are prepared to both provide cybersecurity as well as physical security for our elections,” said Wise. “We have seen attempts here, even in Washington state and across the country.

“I think that has to do with the vigilance of the 39 county auditors across Washington state, as well as our Secretary of State’s office. We need funding for critical election infrastructure — [it’s] a national security issue,” Wise continued. “Because [while] we haven’t seen successful attempts here in Washington state, it doesn’t mean that we rest on our laurels and don’t have more work to do.”

A big part of securing these elections, Wise said, is investing in more security, both digital and physical, from the Federal government.

A recent poll found that nearly 70% of Americans already think that the federal government is providing responsible election funding to local and state governments.

“Every jurisdiction across Washington state pays for their fair share of elections. But we do not see that reliable funding from Congress, and again, electoral have been deemed as critical infrastructure,” Wise said. “It is a national security issue, and Congress really does need to ensure that election offices across the country have the necessary resources to continue holding safe and secure elections. We see a bit of a downpayment coming out of Congress that we need substantial, more funding because this really impacts our most rural and smaller counties across the state.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Elections Director: Congress needs to act for election security