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June 27, 2022

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Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs tackles election misinformation in Vancouver visit

By , Columbian staff writer
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Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs talks to The Columbian Editorial Board on Tuesday. Hobbs is up for re-election this year. He took office in 2021 after former Secretary of State Kim Wyman resigned to take a position with the Biden administration.
Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs talks to The Columbian Editorial Board on Tuesday. Hobbs is up for re-election this year. He took office in 2021 after former Secretary of State Kim Wyman resigned to take a position with the Biden administration. (Photos by Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Washington’s newest Secretary of State, Steve Hobbs, wants voters to know the state’s elections are secure. Hobbs traveled to Vancouver on Tuesday to visit the Fort Vancouver Regional Library and The Columbian as part of an effort to reach out to local communities.

Hobbs said the department is currently focused on educating voters about disinformation and misinformation campaigns commonly seen during elections. While he said his office previously did not have the budget it needed to do extensive public outreach, the Legislature increased the agency’s budget in the last session and Hobbs is now working to expand those efforts.

“My budget priorities were basically blessed by the Legislature: cybersecurity, combating misinformation and disinformation and outreach,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs said he’s starting with “good old-fashioned education of the public,” which means going beyond reminding voters to cast their ballots and explaining how the voting process works, how security is ensured and what voters can do to help.

Hobbs said the most common claims of voter fraud are ballots cast by deceased individuals and voters casting ballots in more than one jurisdiction or state. He said those claims typically turn out to be voters in the military serving overseas or college students still receiving ballots at their parents’ homes.

“Did you know there’s something called the election registration and information center that, if somebody moves to another location, it gets picked up and we can cancel that person’s vote? Or if someone dies, we’ll know about it,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs was appointed secretary of state by Gov. Jay Inslee in November after former Secretary of State Kim Wyman resigned to join the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

“As for this misinformation or disinformation, this narrative that elections are somehow rigged is simply not true,” Hobbs said. “But we haven’t really been talking about it.”

He also wants to educate voters on using common sense when interacting with social media. He said many people will repost or retweet things without examining where the posts are coming from, ensuring they are reliable sources or even that the person posting is human and not a bot.

“There are malign actors out there doing everything they can to spread this misinformation and disinformation,” Hobbs said. “Unfortunately, we have people within our own communities that just take it and run with it.”

Hobbs said his office has doubled its cybersecurity efforts and has a working relationship with the Army National Guard’s cybersecurity specialists. Nearly every county in the state, including Clark County, has a special device, called an Albert sensor, on the elections network that tracks data and activity.

“If you have a preponderance of data coming from or to a Russian IP (internet protocol) address, that’s a red flag. Why would a Russian IP address collect data or send data to some place like Ferry County or Lincoln County?” Hobbs said. “The threats are real, and we have to protect against them.”

Ballots for the Aug. 2 primary election will be mailed by the Clark County Elections Office on July 15, giving voters 18 days to cast their ballots. For election information, including ballot drop box locations, go to https://clark.wa.gov/elections.

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