Some may have been understandably alarmed by reports that Arizona and Illinois election systems were recently targeted for a breach, that Russians are suspected of hacking American emails, and that campaigns on the left and the right speak darkly of “rigged” elections.
As secretary of state and chief administrator of elections here in Washington state, I too am troubled by the political rhetoric of those who are intentionally trying to undermine public confidence in elections.
However, I have tremendous confidence in the cybersecurity of the election system in our state. My office continually works with each of our state’s 39 counties to ensure Washington’s election system is safe and secure, by adding multiple layers of protection and strategies recommended by the best minds in cybersecurity. We have begun a new partnership with Homeland Security as part of our vigilant defense.
Our counties, under the supervision of independently elected auditors, operate election management systems that allow them to verify and tabulate ballots. As the most fundamental component of security, none of the tabulation systems are ever connected to the Internet.
In addition to “air gapping” every county election tabulation system, Washington also uses security procedures and safeguards recommended by foremost security experts. Examples of that rigor:
• Utilizing paper-based systems with a verifiable paper audit trail.
• Independent testing of systems and security is ongoing. Security experts have done full reviews.
• Pre- and post-election tests and audits are required.
• Strict security is provided for all tabulation equipment.
Before a tabulation system can be used in Washington, we require testing at a federally approved lab, including security reviews. Systems are also tested here at the state level and reviewed by an expert certification board.
Counties must perform logic and accuracy testing before every election, and it’s open to the public. Post-election audits also test the system by using randomly selected precincts and races to see if vote totals from the tabulator match a hand count.
Counties have approved tabulation security plans in place and on file with our office.
Significantly, we have a paper-based voting system that allows election officials to see first-hand the voter’s intent. We can go back to the paper ballot and hand count a race when the outcome is very close. We have an audit trail from start to finish, with every ballot.
Washington has a longstanding practice of working closely with IT and security experts to regularly review, identify, and correct any vulnerabilities with our technical systems.
In addition to watching over the security of tabulation systems, Washington goes to great lengths to secure other vital systems, including the Voter Registration Database and Washington Elections Information.
All election systems are protected by state-of-the-art Intrusion Prevention Systems and firewalls. Our system security brief is posted on our Elections & Voting website: tinyurl.com/hkvywgm
We remain vigilant, of course, to any cyber threats and are working closely with the Department of Homeland Security, Elections Assistance Commission, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Justice. We recently had an update from these key agencies, and will continue to be alert to potential threats and vulnerabilities, and will implement new best practices as they are developed.
Additionally we are working with the Department of Homeland Security in a new and unprecedented way — elections experts and IT experts working together, hand-in-hand, to ensure our systems remain secure. Together, we will assess vulnerabilities, share information about threats, and have boots-on-the-ground cyber-security and physical security support here in Washington. Working together in this way demonstrates Washington’s leadership and serves as a model for other states.
Voter confidence in our election system — its fairness, accuracy and security — is paramount to our self-government and to a robust turnout. Ballots go out to our 4.1 million voters this month, and I hope every registered voter will take part.
Kim Wyman is Washington’s 15th Secretary of State.