During her appearance last Thursday at the Community Voices discussion group in Ocean Shores, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman intentionally spent most of her time answering questions.
And it did not seem to surprise any of the 60 or so folks who filled the main room of the North Beach Senior Center, when it became apparent that the issue most on their minds was the same one Wyman broached in her opening remarks: election security in a digitized cyber-world that few in the audience could have imagined when they were first taught about voting and elections.
“The extent of it was frightening,” Wyman said of Russian interference in the U. S. 2016 election, “but I do not believe any ballot was altered by Russia.”
She said, in voter registration and other systems, that summer before the election “we started seeing some activity that we didn’t think was normal. We worked with the FBI and later confirmed our suspicions.”
Washington was one of 21 states in which Russia is known to have attempted election system hacks, and one of the 19 states where the attempts failed. “They couldn’t get past our firewall,” Wyman said with a smile, adding they’ve since added more firewall-type protections.
She noted two other factors she believes makes Washington’s election system especially secure: One is that vote tabulating machines are not online, cannot accept input from devices such as USB thumb drives and require dual operators. The other is what she called the ultimate backup, the state’s mail-in paper ballots and the process that includes checking the signatures on every one of them.
She also mentioned that a huge challenge to their system is the fact that about 10% of the adult population moves every year, “so 40% have moved from one Presidential election to the next.”
The state has been involved in multiple, long-term, multi-state projects to identify voters who may be casting ballots in more than one state. She said a five-state effort in 2016 “found about 100 people who looked like they may have voted more than once,” out of 3.2 million ballots cast in Washington.
Wyman, a former Thurston County auditor whose “background is elections, primarily,” was elected herself as the state’s second female Secretary of State, in 2012, and re-elected in 2016.
She noted that Ocean Shores has five City Council positions and the mayor’s office up for election this fall, with filing next week, May 13-17. She said she believes that, while Americans are acutely aware of the Presidential race every four years, “it is more important to vote in odd-year elections.”
She said the president “really doesn’t impact on daily life … but local decisions are made by locally elected officials and, ironically, those are the lowest turnouts.”
Wyman also said, “Voter suppression is not happening in Washington,” and she thinks most claims of voter fraud and suppression are being made by politicians “just to get their respective bases riled up.”
She ended her talk by telling folks that, despite the challenges of cyber security and foreign intrusion, “The biggest threat is political groups that are willing to do whatever it takes to win.”