After Russia's hacking attempts in the 2016 elections, Washington state officials teamed up with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and National Guard to prevent voting disruptions.
As counties mail out ballots this week, officials continue to bolster the state’s elections systems against cyber threats that could disrupt voting or cause citizens to lose faith in the results.
Sensors to detect suspicious activity have been installed in voting systems across Washington’s 39 counties, and officials have received extra security training.
In a news conference Tuesday, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman said she isn’t aware of any threats beyond what elections offices normally receive, but officials are nonetheless prepared.
“I’m very confident that your ballot is going to be secure this fall,” said Wyman, as she gathered with other officials at the King County’s elections offices in Renton, where ballots are counted.
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“We’re prepared with backup plans to make sure that if we do have an intrusion, that we can respond to it quickly and that we can continue our operations,” she said.
The Washington National Guard has conducted two of three planned assessments to check for weak spots in the voting systems, said Col. Kenneth Borchers, of the guard. The guard suggested a few security tweaks to strengthen protections, Borchers said, and the guard will conduct its third assessment close to Election Day, Nov. 6.
During the 2016 elections, Russian hackers targeted Washington and 20 other states, and breached the election system in at least one state, Illinois.
Since then, state officials have teamed up with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Guard to ramp up efforts to prevent any disruptions.
Washington is considered to have one of the more secure elections systems nationally, partly because its mail-in ballots provide paper records that can be reviewed and recounted if questions emerge. The actual vote-tabulation machines are not connected to the internet, and are considered safe from outside tampering.
King County Elections Director Julie Wise said she is confident the voter-registration and vote-counting systems are safe. Wise said she is focused on securing the county’s election website and social media to prevent hacking.
Meanwhile, a federal grant has been used in part to equip county election system with sensors that can detect attempted hacking or other suspicious activity, Wyman said. Evidence of any malicious act is shared with experts and officials nationally to help identify broader patterns, she said.
“I’m confident that Washington state has done everything humanly possible to protect the security of this election,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “We are aware of concerns, and we are deadly committed to making sure that things go well in this election cycle.”