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Washington Secretary of State candidates debate cybersecurity, misinformation and elections audits

Washington Secretary of State candidate Julie Anderson answers a question Thursday during a debate hosted by the League of Women voters and The Spokesman-Review.  (TVW screenshot)
Washington Secretary of State candidate Julie Anderson answers a question Thursday during a debate hosted by the League of Women voters and The Spokesman-Review. (TVW screenshot)

Candidates for Washington Secretary of State say they’re most concerned about cybersecurity, misinformation and elections audits.

The League of Women Voters and The Spokesman-Review on Thursday hosted a debate for Secretary of State candidates. The Secretary of State oversees Washington elections, the preservation of government documents and the registration of corporations and charities.

Voters elected a Secretary of State just two years ago, but the position opened up in November when Republican Kim Wyman left her post to take a job in the Biden Administration’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Democratic state Sen. Steve Hobbs to take Wyman’s place. It’s the first time since 1964 that a Democrat has held the office.

Voters get to pick their own Secretary of State during this election cycle. Whoever wins in November will finish out Wyman’s term, which runs through 2024.

Thursday’s debate wasn’t full of fireworks. Candidates didn’t launch attacks at their opponents. No one promoted conspiracy theories or brought up any of former President Donald Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Five of the eight Secretary of State candidates participated in the debate.

Republican Bob Hagglund used some of his airtime to advocate for voter identification requirements. Democrat Marquez Tiggs stated multiple times that he’d push to bring in-person voting back to Washington.

But the dominant themes of the debate were elections security, misinformation and transparency.

Hobbs said if elected, he’d prioritize cybersecurity and work to protect the state from Chinese and Russian cyberattacks. He also said combating elections misinformation needs to be a focus for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson touted her experience running elections and her commitment to nonpartisanship. Anderson is running without a party affiliation, yet has still raised $160,000, second only to Hobbs’ $318,000.

“Political parties do not belong in the Secretary of State’s Office,” Anderson said.

Republican Mark Miloscia, a former Republican state senator and Democratic state representative, leads all GOP candidates in fundraising with $58,000.

Miloscia spent much of his time talking about the need for expanded elections audits.

The Secretary of State’s Office needs to eliminate elections errors and opportunities for fraud in order to restore faith in elections, Miloscia said.

“You don’t cover up flaws or try to correct people with concerns, you show them the evidence and involve them in the process,” he said. “You restore trust with evidence and facts.”

None of the candidates said they believe widespread voter fraud occurs in Washington state.

Hobbs and Anderson said opportunities for fraud are limited and that Washington has a robust checks and balances system.

“Yeah, there’s opportunities, but we catch them,” Hobbs said. “We just do a poor job of letting people know what’s going on behind the scenes. Because of that, we let a lot of disinformation and misinformation run away from us.”

Anderson said the Secretary of State’s Office must continue to increase elections accessibility, transparency and security.

But even though much remains to be done, Washington has an excellent system in place for tracking ballots, verifying signatures, ensuring only one ballot gets counted per voter and confirming voter qualification, Anderson said.

“I want voters to know that we have a gold-standard election system that’s the envy of the nation,” she said. “We do a great job of auditing in Washington state.”

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