With midterm ballots set to be mailed out across the state this week, Secretary of State Kim Wyman and Governor Jay Inslee held a press conference on election security on Tuesday morning at the King County Elections Office. Joining Wyman and Inslee were King County Elections Director Julie Wise and Colonel Ken Borchers, commander of the 252nd Cyberspace Operations Group of the Washington National Guard.
Secretary Wyman opened her remarks by noting that while cybersecurity related to elections is a new concern for many, the threat has been on the state’s radar for decades.
“Cybersecurity I know is new for many people in terms of election security, but I can tell you that election officials have been working on this issue in our state for well over 20 years,” said Wyman. “From the moment that we started putting election night results out on the internet, we were acutely aware of the risks and we have been doing things to mitigate it ever since.”
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In September 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notified 21 states, including Washington, that their elections systems had been targeted by hackers during the 2016 election. While the hackers were ultimately unsuccessful in breaching the security of Washington State’s election system, the widespread attempt revealed the importance of continuing to bolster Washington’s election security.
Washington is already considered to have one of the most secure election systems in the country, in part because of the state’s mail-in balloting system. Having a paper vote record adds an additional later of security in case ballots ever need to be recounted.
But since the 2016 election, Wyman says the influx of nearly $8 million from Congress has allowed the state to add multiple layers of physical and electronic security. One example she mentioned is the installment of Albert sensors to monitor and detect malicious activity in voting systems across the state. The sensors share information with other systems across the country to identify network patterns, trends, and abnormalities.
Wyman also says the tabulation system for all 39 Washington counties is safe from cyber-attacks simply because they are part of a closed system.
“Our tabulation system, the system that counts ballots, is secure and has not been breached. And I know this very confidently, not only in Washington State but nationally, because none of those systems are connected to the internet in any way,” says Wyman.
The Secretary of State’s office is also working in partnership with DHS and the Washington National Guard to identify cybersecurity threats. At the conference, Col. Borchers said that the Washington National Guard has conducted two cyber assessments to identify tweaks to increase election security, and will perform a third assessment right before the November 6th midterms.
“Washington State is prepared to count every single ballot and to make sure that our system is secure,” said Inslee during the conference. “I’m here to say that I’m confident in that system. I’m confident that Washington State has done everything humanly possible to protect the security of this election. We are aware of concerns and we are doubly committed to making sure that things go well in this election.”
Looking to the future, Director Julie Wise says it’s important to continue to identify new threats. Wise says she is evaluating ways to improve King County Election’s social media and website security.
The 18-day voting period begins on October 19th. The deadline for in-person voter registration is October 29th with the general election taking place on November 6th.