By Senator Hans Zeiger and Representative Jim Walsh.
Election security is vital to the functioning of our democracy. In an age of cyber threats and attacks, we in the Legislature cannot afford to ignore the risks. In the last several years, Washington has made significant efforts to expand voter access. The state has changed its election laws to allow same-day voter registration, bring ballots to college students, encourage native tribal members to vote and make it easier for people serving in the military or living overseas to vote. But we must balance greater ballot access with greater election security—to assure that our state election results are fair and accurate.
State lawmakers in Olympia need to make election security a priority this session. The Legislature must take the necessary steps to enact laws that stay ahead of cybercriminals looking to undermine our election system. That’s why, at the request of the Office of Secretary of State, we introduced Senate Bill 6412 and House Bill 2647—comprehensive legislation aimed at strengthening security for the 2020 election cycle and beyond.
The first thing these bills would do is invest $1.8 million state dollars in election security to draw nearly $9 million in federal matching funds. This money will help state and local election officials keep up with the broader access, changing technology—and especially cyber threats.
Second, the proposals would prevent ballot tampering. They penalize individuals who fail to deliver a voted ballot. This protects voters as well as ballot collectors by providing a clear chain of custody for ballots. If you are unable to return your ballot by mail or drop box and an individual you don’t know turns it in for you, you must receive a receipt of the transaction and the collector will be required to keep a log of the ballots he or she has collected.
Some election observers are concerned that “ballot harvesting”—the aggressive collecting of completed ballots by partisan activists—can cross over into illegal behaviors like altering or destroying ballots. Keeping that chain of custody clear and traceable is critical to preventing that sort of manipulation.
Third, the bills will limit entry points to election systems by removing electronic methods of ballot return for military and overseas voters. Ballots are at a higher risk of exposure to cybercrime when using email, fax and other electronic return methods.
Finally, the bills provide post-election security by removing low value-added machine recounts and replacing them with statistically significant audits. This will be more effective at finding problems. And, by doing that, it will discourage abuse.
Cyber-threats are real. Hackers are always testing vulnerabilities.
The common-sense measures we’ve developed with the Secretary of State will ensure voter confidence in Washington state elections. And that confidence is essential to good election results.
State Senator Hans Zeiger (R-Puyallup) represents the 25th Legislative District and is the ranking member on the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee. State Representative Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) represents the 19th Legislative District and is the ranking member on the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee.