As the state’s chief election official, I have seen the national awareness of election cybersecurity increase dramatically since 2016. My colleagues across the country watch in dismay as politically motivated leaders casually erode public confidence for partisan gain. We see continuous half-truths and mischaracterizations of our cyber readiness headlined across the political fields and news-media outlets.
Here in our state, I am proud to tell you Washington election officials are on the leading edge of modernizing and securing our state’s elections.
Our strength begins in county election offices. Each independently elected official and his or her staff ensure the use of transparent procedures, re-countable paper ballots, and tabulation systems that are never connected to the internet. This integrated methodology is a solid base for election security that would require a hacker to be physically on-site in order to gain access to the system. Additionally, each county election office has layers of physical, technological and electronic security measures built around all tabulation systems.
Part of our role in the elections field is to ensure the correct utilization of technology. Here in Washington, many of our elections hardware and software systems are nearing what technicians refer to as the “end of life.” (How many people still use an Apple iPhone 3G?) Some of these software programs are so old that the original manufacturers no longer provide support.
As a state, we cannot combat the national cyber threat with aging technology. To maintain our readiness, this June, we began implementing an important tool to combat cyber threats. All 39 counties have already begun using this tool — the VoteWA system.
Since its launch, VoteWA has enabled us to fortify the cybersecurity of our state and county elections to a level simply not possible with current systems. We have added multiple layers of firewalls, monitoring and threat-detection software to protect election servers from intrusion.
VoteWA contains the state’s voter registration database, which manages information for each of our 4.3 million registered voters, providing all 39 counties with real-time information. It creates the first statewide election geographic information system layer for each address, enabling county election officials to send the correct ballot to each voter. Additionally, we have strengthened system-access protocols statewide with new features like multi-factor authentication and pre-authorized computers to ensure only approved users gain access to VoteWA.
At the state level, the Secretary of State’s office has created a Security Operations Center established to protect, monitor and safeguard the VoteWA system. The center works with our federal, state and county partners to prevent and detect intrusions into our system and continuously upgrade operational plans to respond and recover from a cyberattack. As cyberattacks will never diminish, we will relentlessly pursue security improvement efforts.
For the first time, next month, county election officials will be able to issue and track ballots for processing in real time, statewide. VoteWA will provide the access and security needed to effectively implement the new Same Day Registration, Automatic Voter Registration and Future Voter Program laws that went into effect this year.
Developed by a team of more than 80 election and IT professionals from counties, the state and the vendor, BPro, the VoteWA system is a collaborative, innovative solution to a complex problem.
Counties have been using VoteWA since June to prepare for the August primary and November general elections. Like any new technology rollout, system bugs and performance issues have surfaced. Each issue is addressed and corrected as it is identified to improve and optimize performance. These routine activities were anticipated during these final stages of the phase one project implementation. Full system functionality will be realized during completion of phase two in December.
Over the past five years, Washington state’s 40 election officers have been focused on this important, time-sensitive and ambitious goal — modernize and secure our state’s election system by 2020. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of election and IT professionals across the state, the vision has become reality.