With concerns about cyber threats to the nation’s elections, it is comforting to know that Washington has among the most secure systems in the country.
With mail-in ballots in use, our state eschews the more vulnerable electronic voting and leaves a paper trail that adds to peace of mind. Washington is one of three states — along with Oregon and Colorado — to conduct all elections by mail, a system that not that long ago might have seemed a bit anachronistic with the advent of electronic voting machines. Instead, the approach now appears to be far more advanced than the highfalutin machines.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman said: “The frightening thing for me is that there are those that are trying to undermine democracy at its foundation. That if they can cast doubt on the outcome of an election, people start to lose confidence in our election system.” A paper-based voting system allows for post-election audits and recounts when necessary, providing more security than in the five states where elections leave no paper trails.
Still, voter confidence has been shaken by revelations that Russian nationals attempted to influence the 2016 election, including attempts to hack into state voter systems. Washington was one of 21 states identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as being the target of Russian hacking efforts. Wyman said those efforts were unsuccessful in Washington, but a recent federal indictment of 12 Russian intelligence agents claims hackers stole the information of about 500,000 voters in an unspecified state.
The role any of that played in the election is still to be determined, but it should be accepted as fact that foreign cyber terrorists are attempting to influence our elections. Because of that, Washington cannot rest on its laurels when it comes to election security. As part of a federal spending bill, Washington is receiving $7.9 million to upgrade aging election systems. Each state is receiving at least $3 million, depending upon population.
The state also is working with cybersecurity experts from the Washington Air National Guard to bolster security. The Seattle Times reported that the guard members have day jobs in cybersecurity with Amazon, Microsoft and other high-tech companies. Wyman stresses that the military will not be involved in the state’s elections and will not have access to elections records, but will help add layers of security.
This is welcome news, particularly considering security gaps elsewhere. Election Systems and Software, one of the country’s largest makers of voting machines, has admitted that devices supplied between 2000 and 2006 included remote-connection software. That leaves machines susceptible to hacking, and the admission follows years of denials. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said including the software was “the worst decision for security short of leaving ballot boxes on a Moscow street corner.”
Wyden has called for Congress to pass legislation requiring the use of paper ballots and post-election audits of votes. With concerns about the integrity of elections throughout the United States, Congress should indeed take steps to reinforce the public’s confidence.
Threats to our election system undermine democracy from within and should be taken seriously by officials from the state level to the White House. Voters must be confident that when they cast a ballot it will be counted and reported accurately and securely. The rest of the country could take a lesson from Washington in that regard.