Misinformation and Election Security on the Minds of Candidates for Secretary of State in This Election

Laurel Demkovich / The Spokesperson Review

Security, transparency and misinformation surrounding the state’s electoral system are top concerns for candidates hoping to become Washington’s next secretary of state.

The race drew eight candidates hoping to fill the spot left by former secretary Kim Wyman last year. Wyman left to join the Biden administration, leaving Governor Jay Inslee to appoint former state senator Steve Hobbs to fill his place. The winner of this year’s election will serve the remainder of Wyman’s term, which ends in 2024.

Inslee’s nomination of Hobbs marked the first time since 1964 that a Republican did not hold the office.

This primary, Hobbs will face seven challengers.

Candidates include Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, who is running without party preference; Republican State Senator Keith Wagoner; former Republican and Democrat state legislator Mark Miloscia; Republican Bob Hagglund, a Republican who works as a data scientist at United Health; Democrat Marquez Tiggs; Tamborine Borrelli, who identifies with the “America First (R)” party; and Kurtis Engle, who lists his affiliation as the “Union” party.

The two best candidates will face each other in the November elections.

The candidates with the most donations as of Friday are Hobbs, with more than $386,000, and Anderson, with nearly $150,000. The third candidate by donations is Miloscia, who has nearly $53,700.

Experience working in elections

The role of the Secretary of State includes archiving government records and providing information and access to the business community about corporations and charities. One of his biggest roles, however, is as the state’s chief election officer.

Hobbs received criticism, particularly from county auditors, for not having enough experience in election administration.

Hobbs said he believes his background in cybersecurity and his current role as secretary of state make him the best candidate for the job. The role is different from the auditor in that it does more monitoring, reviews and certifications, while auditors handle elections, he said.

He said the secretary of state needs to know more about cyber threats and countering disinformation now.

“I’m the only candidate who really has the experience at this level because the role of secretary of state has evolved,” he said.

Wagoner had a similar response, highlighting his leadership experience.

“It’s not a super listener job,” he said. “It’s a leadership position that leads through a whole bunch of different departments.”

When asked what best she could do if elected, Anderson replied “pretty much anything.” She highlighted her experience in preserving public records, recording licenses, managing records and working closely with election officials in each county.

“It’s not something I touch,” Anderson said. “It’s something I do.”

Anderson is running as a nonpartisan candidate because she doesn’t think the job requires “unnecessary conflict by belonging to a political party.” The work is quite difficult, she added.

Fight against electoral misinformation

After the 2020 election, misinformation surrounding electoral systems and widespread fraud raised concerns among most candidates.

Asked about the baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, most said they did not believe there was any fraud that could have flipped the election in favor of former President Donald Trump or Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp.

Hobbs, Tiggs, Engle and Anderson all said there was no widespread fraud.

Both Wagoner and Hagglund said there were still cases of fraud, but not enough to overturn the results, as some of the candidates’ supporters said.

Miloscia said there was still fraud in the system, but did not say whether he thought there was enough to nullify an election. Instead, he said the secretary of state needed to do a better job of investigating “holes in the system” to prevent fraud in the first place.

Borrelli wrote in an email that there were a number of concerns in the 2020 election that could have led to widespread fraud, including “unexplainable vote rollover”, from non-citizens who registered to vote without their knowledge and security breaches of voter data.

Borrelli is the director of the Washington Election Integrity Coalition United, which has sued several counties alleging voter fraud in the 2020 election. The group has a number of pending lawsuits and a number have been dropped or dismissed.

The group and its attorney were recently ordered to pay more than $28,000 by the state Supreme Court for suing Inslee over baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud, according to the Seattle Times.

According to a press release from the group, they recently filed a petition in Franklin County under the Public Records Act for election records in the 2020 general election.

Most candidates agreed that there should be better communication with the public about what is happening with their ballot.

“We took the election for granted, but the public doesn’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes,” Hobbs said.

Since becoming secretary of state, Hobbs said he has worked to secure more money in the office’s budget to create an information integrity division. This division works to inform the public about what is happening with their ballot.

He said his office must also continue to fight misinformation that may arise around the election.

Anderson said there’s skepticism and a lack of confidence in the election, but many people who have concerns are concerned about national news or what’s happening in other states.

“The closer you get to home, the more people say our systems are OK,” she said.

Miloscia said people’s confidence in the country’s electoral system was “at an all-time low”.

He said the focus should be on continuous improvement and addressing issues within the electoral system that are not producing good results. He highlighted the improvement of the audit system, the election observation system and the cleaning of the electoral lists.

“That’s how you lose voter confidence,” Miloscia said. “When voters feel like you’re not making things right or you’re not getting good results, trust goes down.”

Wagoner agreed, saying he wanted the secretary of state to focus on constant improvement, “much like updating your computer.” He pointed to updating voter lists and routine audits as a way to do this.

“I think doing a better job is the way to restore trust in the system,” he said.

Increase the transparency and security of electoral systems

To address these concerns, most candidates said they wanted to increase transparency and awareness of how the state’s electoral system works.

Anderson said that often when she explains to concerned people that there are checks and balances and safeguards in place, it helps them understand. There are, however, some technical things she would like to do to increase transparency and security.

One idea is to conduct a risk mitigation audit for state measures or races. All counties currently conduct random post-election audits that compare paper ballots to machine results, but there are currently no similar statewide audits.

That means the counties often each audit different races the day after the election.

“Who comprehensively and statistically relevant audits a statewide race, such as a gubernatorial race?” she says.

Anderson’s idea would take statistically valid samples from each county for statewide races and include the public in the process.

Anderson also wants to create a nonpartisan election observer corps that would be made up of nonpartisan volunteers trained by the secretary of state. They would then observe election operations and review voter registration records statewide.

If elected, Miloscia’s plans include creating fraud and audit divisions in each county and the office of the secretary of state, conducting mandatory random audits for counties and precincts; and revamping and implementing new standards for the state election observer program.

Hagglund said the way to fight misinformation is to be open and transparent. He said his background in data science and consulting would help him, if elected.

“That’s really what it’s all about,” he said. “We must reveal everything.”

Borrelli said she wanted to clean up voter rolls and educate voters on their ballot’s chain of custody.

“I would fight misinformation with verifiable truth about every aspect of our current system that is not transparent, secure or publicly verified and how we can change that,” she said.

Another issue facing many candidates is the security of the state’s elections from bad actors.

With his background in the National Guard, Hobbs made cybersecurity a priority when he was appointed by Inslee.

He said he put more money into doubling cybersecurity personnel and improving existing relationships with National Guard cyber units. Hobbs said he also backed up VoteWA — the state’s voter database — in the cloud, as opposed to just a hard drive, to improve the security of voting systems.

Wagoner said he would like to help county auditors update outdated voter rolls and perform routine spot audits across the state.

Hagglund said in his current role for United Health, he deals with confidential data and knows how to protect it. He said if elected, he would work harder to ensure parts of the state’s election system, such as tabulation, are not connected to the internet so they remain secure.

Other questions, candidates

Tiggs said he is running to provide a diverse pool of candidates because representation matters and candidate diversity matters.

“People want to see that,” he said. “Voters don’t want to keep seeing the same people running for these kinds of positions.”

Its main issues include expanding voter access and decreasing voter suppression of people of color.

Engle is running as a member of the Union party, which he said he did because he is “extremely unhappy” with what the Republicans are doing and wanted to be in a party that is not Neither Democrat nor Republican.

He said he was showing up to keep Washington voters informed about China’s threat to Washington.

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