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News >  Washington

Senate panel considers election security measures

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 5, 2020

OLYMPIA – Washington lawmakers may face a tough choice between election security and allowing overseas troops to cast their ballots electronically.

Cybersecurity experts told the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee that returning a ballot by fax or email can introduce viruses or malware into the state’s election system. Mailing the actual ballot back is the secure way to vote.

“It’s all about the attachments,” Nancy Bickford, government affairs and policy director for the state Military Department. “It could bring down the whole system.”

But some local elections officials said that for troops in remote locations, mail is so unreliable that the only way to get a ballot back on time is by fax or email.

The state would be telling that small segment of voters “you don’t get to vote,” said Mason County Auditor Paddy McGuire. “It’s critical not to remove that right before the presidential election.”

Washington is a national leader in election security, but one of only five states to allow the electronic return of voted ballots, Secretary of State Kim Wyman said.

The bill also would put requirements on organizations or people other than family members who collect a person’s ballot and drop it in the mail or deposit it in a dropbox. The voter and the collector would have to sign a form that says when the ballot is being picked up.

That provision is a response to instances of voter fraud in North Carolina and ballots being accidentally turned in after the deadline in Oregon, Wyman said. It doesn’t ban ballot collection, as some states have, but adds language where the law is currently silent.

“We’re talking about strangers taking people’s ballots, in a total act of faith,” said Wyman, adding she encourages voters to go to a dropbox, use the postage-paid envelope or ask a trusted family member.

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, asked whether the requirements would stand up to a recent federal appeals court ruling in Arizona that said limits on ballot collection in that state amounted to voter suppression. Wyman said the limits are different and Washington, unlike Arizona, has no history of voter suppression, which factored into the decision.

Threats to the election system aren’t going away, and the state needs to be vigilant, Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, said. “We can’t wait until next year to pass this bill.”

The committee will have to decide by Friday whether to move the bill, which also would spend $1.8 million on local elections security to secure some $9 million in federal money, to the House Appropriations Committee.

The committee must also decide whether to support possible changes to the law that would require advisory votes to be put on the general election ballot whenever the Legislature approves tax increases. Those ballot measures, approved in a 2007 initiative, don’t require the Legislature to change any taxes that a majority of voters say should be rejected.

A dozen advisory measures were on the 2019 ballot; a majority said nine should be rejected and three maintained.

Kuderer, the bill’s sponsor, said the law requires the ballot measures to be written in such a way that voters are likely to call for rejections rather than offer real feedback.

“These are not advisory votes, they’re designed to be push polls,” she said.

But Tim Eyman, the sponsor of the initiative that created the requirement, called it an “arrogant elitist bill” that signaled to voters that legislators don’t care about their opinions.

“If you don’t like tax advisory votes, stop raising taxes all the time,” Eyman said.

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