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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: PDC helps voters get facts straight on elections

The Columbian
Published: April 27, 2024, 6:03am

The explanation is fairly simple.

“We’re here to promote confidence in Washington state’s political process by helping voters and the public understand where money in politics comes from and where it’s going,” reads the website for the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

But as members of the commission held their monthly meeting this week in Vancouver, extending efforts at statewide outreach, it was clear that the mission is growing ever more complex. Free and fair elections, with voters basing their decisions on accurate information, are being challenged by falsehoods and deepfakes and actors who seek to disrupt the United States’ democratic system.

“It’s complicated,” Peter Lavallee, executive director of the commission, said during a meeting with The Columbian’s Editorial Board. “Our mission, our challenge is to educate people.”

At its most basic level, the Public Disclosure Commission provides financial information about donations and expenditures for political campaigns within the state. This does not include candidates for Congress, who report to the Federal Elections Commission. But it does include candidates for everything from governor to the Legislature to county clerk, with https://www.pdc.wa.gov/ providing information with the click of a few buttons.

The commission was formed in 1972, when 72 percent of Washington voters supported Initiative 276. The measure also established the state’s Public Records Act and read: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.”

Washington voters have a clear interest in transparent government. But maintaining that transparency requires an engaged and concerned public. It also requires gatekeepers who try to stay one step ahead of the misinformation.

As Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey, the area’s top elections official, told the commission: “The biggest challenge that we face is there continues to be a number of people in our county, state and country who continue to not believe that the election results reflect the will of voters. It’s ramping up again. It all began with Donald Trump in 2016 when he said he would only trust an election that he won. And it’s still with us. It doesn’t seem to matter how many facts or how much information you have, it doesn’t change the view of those who hold that belief. I look to you for an answer to that. Please, help me. That’s really the biggest issue I’m here to talk about.”

Indeed, intense audits in multiple states failed to uncover widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Fox News agreed to a $787 million settlement over the network’s lies targeting a voting machine company. And William Barr, a U.S. attorney general under Trump, said, “we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

But facts mean little to those who embrace Trump’s lies about a fraudulent election.

Meanwhile, the Public Disclosure Commission also is tasked with establishing rules to regulate the use of artificial intelligence — “deepfakes” — in campaigns. As commission Chair Nancy Isserlis told the Editorial Board: “There’s a lot of AI going on in politics around the world, and now it’s coming home to roost.”

All of which demands more from voters. The best defense of our democracy will come from a sensible public that uses all available tools to remain accurately informed. The Public Disclosure Commission is there to help.