OLYMPIA — Washington voters should be on the lookout for fake information intended to confuse people in the days leading up to and after the Nov. 3 election, state Secretary of State Kim Wyman said Monday.
“We are anticipating in the coming days … misinformation and disinformation campaigns shared not only on social media, but across the internet,” said Wyman in a news conference with several county auditors.
Wyman’s news conference comes after the FBI announced last week that Iran was sending fake, threatening emails to American voters. The FBI said Russia and Iran had obtained voter registration information — which is often publicly available — in an effort to influence the final weeks of the presidential election.
But the secretary of state reiterated that Washington’s election systems have not been compromised. And Wyman touted a host of security features in Washington’s vote-by-mail election system, from the security of drop boxes to secure online systems and the ability to verify voter signatures as ballots come in.
“We’re confident that our system has not had any breaches, it has not been compromised in any way, and that it is still operating fully secure,” she said.
Wyman, however, urged voters to share suspected emails or social media posts with the Secretary of State’s Office “to really help us combat these efforts.”
Residents can report such posts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 360-902-4180, according to a spokesperson for Wyman. If possible, people should provide screenshots or links to suspected mis/disinformation.
The news conference comes as Washington, like other states, is seeing heavy early turnout in an election cycle marked by a pandemic, deepening partisan divides and civil unrest.
But officials have been tightening security for this year. Washington and other states have been on high alert for election breaches since it was revealed that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
Foreign actors that year scanned Washington’s online systems, looking for weaknesses, but didn’t ultimately breach the state’s system. As in 2018, cybersecurity experts with the Washington National Guard will be helping make sure the system is safe on election night, Wyman said.
This year is also seeing a heavy emphasis on ballot drop boxes after President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on mail voting and changes by his administration to the U.S. Postal Service that temporarily slowed mail earlier this year.
At least three of Washington’s 39 counties — King, Snohomish and Thurston — have planned for some sort of security presence at elections offices or ballot drop boxes during the voting period.
King County hasn’t received any reports of voter intimidation, Elections Director Julie Wise said Monday, and voters continue to return ballots in high numbers.
“We already have a 50% turnout, so that means over 700,000 ballots returned here in King County elections,” said Wise.
Ballots are processed when they are received — with voter signatures on ballots being verified, for example, to the signatures on file — and the county could have a record number of results posted on election night.
Wise said her office has seen social media chatter about voters being concerned about vote by mail, and some considering going to one of the county’s vote center to cast their ballot.
But those voters would just get a mail ballot packet at the vote center, just like the one they have been mailed, said Wise.
“I just want voters to be prepared for that,” she said. “They’re going to get a mail ballot packet, and they can sit there and fill it out, they’re welcome to, and return it to the drop box there. But again, it’s going to be the exact same ballot packet that was sent out.”
Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell at Monday’s news conference said, “We have no specific threats at this time in our county.”
His county wasn’t seeing any more issues with ballot signatures than the office might during any other election, said Fell.
Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton said the postal system remains secure for ballots, but ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3.
Chilton urged residents to mail their ballots are soon as possible, however.
“And if for some reason you need to mail it on Election Day, take it in to the Post Office, have it hand-canceled,” she said. “If that is your comfort level.”
For information on contacting election offices in each of Washington’s 39 counties, go to: https://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/viewauditors.aspx.