ARLINGTON, Wash., July 31, 2022 – Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Arlington on Thursday to answer questions on election integrity and cybersecurity and share the latest initiatives of his agency.
Hobbs, a 17-year Rotarian has been traveling the state from Spokane to Walla Walla, Vancouver to now Arlington and plans on continuing the public outreach tour throughout the year.
“We need to get the word out about elections,” Secretary Hobbs told the Lynnwood Times at the meeting. “We have to start at the grassroots level. You know, not everyone’s gonna see public service announcements on the election. Hopefully, as I go to each city, the word will spread, and we could kind of bring down the percentage of people that think that the elections are rigged.”
In a July CNN poll, 61% of Americans said they are concerned about election integrity. Hobbs shared that in addition to strengthening its relationship with the Air National Guard’s Cyber Defense Unit, the SOS Office was able to procure additional funding and is now in the process of forming a team to address the areas of misinformation and disinformation, voter outreach, and education.
His agency is focused ensuring all 39 counties have what they need to protect the integrity of the state’s election system from offering cyber security expertise to communication outreach. Hobbs was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee in November of last year, replacing Kim Wyman for Secretary of State who accepted a job with the Biden administration.
Prior to his appointment to Secretary of State, Hobbs, a native Washingtonian, represented the 44th Legislative District in the state Senate since 2007. He also serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Washington State National Guard and is a 32-year U.S. Army veteran. Possessing both a Master of Public Administration from the University of Washington and a security clearance from the National Security Agency (NSA), he recently completed Defense Information School through the U.S. Department of Defense and has additional training for officers from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
“This really prepared me for this position that is uniquely challenging because of the cyber threats, misinformation and disinformation that is pressuring elections and unfortunately creating this animosity, this distrust towards elections,” said Hobbs when asked how his military background prepared him for the state’s chief election official. “You saw January 6; you saw what happened in our state Capital. We just can’t have that anymore. We can’t take elections for granted.”
One of the key criticisms stemming back to Hobbs’ predecessor Kim Wyman was from former gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp regarding the integrity of the voter rosters. Hobbs told the Lynnwood Times that the state’s voter roster is routinely maintained.
“I always hear this…that we need to clean the roster,” Hobbs said. “What do they mean by that [cleaning]? Who are they trying to get rid of, right?”
He added, “I don’t know what they’re trying to do when they say we need to clean the voter rolls, but we do have to maintain the rolls and they are being maintained”
Election Integrity: The ERIC System and the ALBERT Sensor
Washington utilizes both the ERIC System and the Albert Sensor. According to its website, ERIC stands for Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) and Washington was one of six other states that pioneered its formation. As of October 2021, there are 31 member states and the District of Columbia.
At least every 60 days, each ERIC member state shares voter registration and motor vehicle licensing data. The SOS Office uses this information to identify voters who have moved, died, who are registered in other states, and who voted in more than one state.
After a one-time fee of $25,000, member states pay annual membership dues for 2021-22 ranging from about $16,000 to approximately $74,000. The actual amount is determined by formula that uses a state’s population of voting age citizens.
The Albert sensor was developed by the Center for Internet Security (CIS) based on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Einstein program, which does network intrusion detection for federal agencies. It is available to U.S. State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial governments.
The Albert sensor is designed to provide network security alerts when malware is detected on a network, as well as advanced persistent threats. It is an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) that uses open-source software that passively sits on a network and collects data, which is then encrypted and transmitted around the clock to the CIS center for analysis. When an alert is verified as actionable, CIS sends an event notification to the appropriate agency.
To convey the importance of the Albert sensor, Hobbs broke it down for readers with this simple explanation.
“So, I have a bunch of data that comes from Russia or a suspicious IP address. The sensor lets you know, ‘hey, there’s a bunch of suspicious data coming in.’ It doesn’t know what the data is, but it’s like, why is all this data coming from Russia?”
When pressed for more details on cybersecurity, Hobbs stated that he doesn’t want to tip off bad actors on the confidential security protocols of the state. However, he did share that the SOS Office is planning election scenarios and exercises in 2023 in preparation for the 2024 Presidential Election.
At its February 14th meeting, Ferry County Commissioner Nathan Davis’ motion to remove the Albert sensor from the county’s election system was unanimously approved making it the only county in Washington state not utilizing this cybersecurity tool.
Hobbs shared that this action by Ferry County removes a monitoring tool to timely identify and locate the origin of an intrusion from a bad actor.
Last week a group calling itself “WA Citizens United to Secure Ballot Boxes” placed “surveillance” signs near ballot boxes in King County. Hobbs questioned the intention of those involved and asked that residents not partake in an action that may be perceived as voter intimidation.
“It’s sad because I don’t know what they’re trying to do,” Hobbs said. “Are you trying to intimidate people from turning in their ballot? That’s a form of suppression. Don’t do it. You know, there’s no reason to.”
Upcoming Initiatives from the SOS Office
Washington’s Office of the Secretary of State oversees a number of areas within state government besides managing state elections such as registering corporations and charities, and governing the use of the state flag and state seal. The office also manages the State Archives and the State Library, documents extraordinary stories in Washington’s history through Legacy Washington, oversees the Combined Fund Drive for charitable giving by state employees, and administers the state’s Address Confidentiality Program to help protect survivors of crime.
Hobbs shared that he is currently looking into putting field offices in selected cities that will focus on providing face-to-face help for residents starting or managing a corporation, charity and/or nonprofit. He also shared that his office is looking into utilizing prison libraries to aid in rehabilitation efforts to reduce recidivism. His office is also evaluating the benefits of sponsoring a prison podcast in the women’s prison similar to Ear Hustle in the California Penal System.
Hobbs was most proud of his office currently developing a plan to partner and/or coordinate with rural libraries to offer a game library where kids and young adults can check out games.
“Vancouver does this,” Hobbs shared. “They have a games library kids can go in there and check out a game, play games in a nice safe warm environment. We wanna do the same thing with the rural libraries out there. So, I’m really looking forward to it.”
Many may not know that Washington state authors books. The SOS Office is considering hiring a fourth author to write about famous Washingtonians and events.
“We just put out a book about Dan Evans, who’s the third three-term governor in the State of Washington. We are putting another book out about the 10th anniversary of marriage equality,” Hobbs said.
Lastly, the State Librarian, Sara Jones, is looking into developing a podcast by famous authors to share their works and encourage more engagement by residents to the rich history of Washington state.
Featured photo for article courtesy of Stephanie Prentice.