July 20, 2024 2:53 pm

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Hobbs visits colleges, talks voter engagement and combating misinformation

EVERETT, Wash, April 26, 2023— With candidate filing week less than a month away for the 2023 General Election, Washington Secretary of State, Steve Hobbs, met with the Lynnwood Times during his North Sound tour on Tuesday, April 25, where we discussed everything from election integrity to cybersecurity; and on a lighter note, his passion for roleplaying games such as Dungeons and Dragons. 

His North Sound tour included Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College, and Everett Community College where Secretary Hobbs provided updates on his office, its Combined Fund Drive and Legacy Program, and progress on educating students about civics and the election process in general.

Hobbs election
Lynnwood Times and Everett Community College’s The Clipper meeting with Secretary of State Steve Hobbs and Deputy Secretary of State Randy Bolerjack.

“Community colleges have a warm place in my heart, because this was the only way that I was going to get a four-year degree,” said Hobbs about his tour. “This is an opportunity for people from a working-class background. My mother came to this country with no money. She struggled to make ends meet raising myself and my sister; yet I was able to come [to Everett Community College] to get an Associate’s Degree and take that to a four-year institution.” 

ERIC voting program controversy

A large topic of contention for Secretary of State’s Offices throughout the nation has recently been the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a bipartisan interstate voter program that several Republican-led states have pulled out of within the last year, alleging the tool is a plot to control voting rolls. 

So far seven red states — Ohio, Iowa, Florida, West Virginia, Missouri, Louisiana, and Alabama — have opted out of the program after many prominent Republicans, namely former President Donald J. Trump, accused the program as pumping the “roll for Democrats and does nothing to clean them up,” according to Politico.

ERIC was founded in 2012 and is comprised of state election officials. States who have decided to join, and Hobbs himself, defend the program as being the “most effective tool available to help election officials maintain more accurate voter rolls and detect possible illegal voting” while helping “states reach out to potentially eligible but not yet registered individuals with information on how best to register to vote.”

“It’s just nuts that there’s this misinformation directed at something that protects you from election fraud and they’re buying into it,” said Hobbs. “The big question among Secretaries of States is ‘what’s your replacement?’ There is no replacement!” 

Hobbs recently returned from a trip to Washington D.C., where he met with several other Secretaries of States across the country to discuss how they can keep red states on ERIC, while working with federal lawmakers on passing a bill that would provide more security for election workers. 

Instilling voter confidence

In February of this year, Hobbs launched his Vote with Confidence campaign to inform voters of election security measures and debunk election misinformation. 

As for civics education among young people, the Secretary of State’s Office is working on a mobile video game app that would transport players to a fantasy world, where they can vote upon different fantasy characters and possibly even run a political campaign themselves. Users will also answer civics questions along the way. The goal is to “motivate young people before they’re even of voting age,” Hobbs said. 

Hobbs wants to work with local indie video game developers in the Puget Sound on this project and also shared there may even be a tabletop roleplaying game, similar to Dungeons and Dragons, in the works. 

A self-proclaimed “nerd” who enjoys playing tabletop roleplaying games and often speaks at conventions like PAX video game convention and Orca Con, Hobbs supported therapeutic gaming in the state’s budget where trained psychologists use roleplaying games for kids with developmental disabilities and veterans suffering from PTSD.

During this year’s legislative session, Hobbs also ran a Dungeons and Dragons game for elected officials in Olympia during a “Legislative Game Day” event, intentionally for one Republican, one Democrat, one business lobbyist, and one labor lobbyist. He was also sure to include the latest Dungeons and Dragons rulebook in the Secretary of State’s library for correction facilities across Washington state to allow inmates the opportunity to play. 

Deep fakes and advisory votes 

Just some of the legislation passed this session Hobbs addressed is SB5152, defining synthetic media in campaigns for elective office, and providing relief for candidates and campaigns, otherwise known as the “Deep Fake” bill; and SB5082, encouraging electoral participation and making ballots more meaningful by abolishing advisory votes. 

SB5152 would impose a new cause of action for candidates who are the subject of synthetic media in electioneering communication and defined “synthetic media” as:

“A depiction that, to a reasonable person, is of a real individual in appearance, action, or speech that did not actually occur in reality; and a fundamentally different understanding or impression of the appearance, action, or speech than they would have from the unaltered original version of the image, audio recording, or video recording.”

SB5082 will abolish the requirement that tax increases be referred to the people for an advisory vote at the next general election. In other words, the voters’ pamphlet no longer needs to contain information about advisory votes. Hobbs mentioned the reasoning behind this is that advisory votes do not influence the voting decision behind tax increases, adding that the state will be including a list of taxes on its website that the public can view in lieu of the ballot. 

Cybersecurity 

To crack down on cybersecurity, the Secretary of State’s Cybersecurity Team has doubled in size and, for the first time ever, VoteWA’s voting database is being backed up to the cloud. The Office is also working closely with CISA, the FBI, and the National Guard to bolster cybersecurity defense. 

“We want to make sure that we’re ahead of any potential threat that’s out there,” said Hobbs

Hobbs shared that his office is currently looking to fill several cybersecurity positions and is encouraging residents to apply.

Additionally, the Secretary of State’s Office recently issued grants in the amount of $80,000 a year, per county, for the next three years to boost a county’s physical and digital security. However, one of the requirements of receiving this grant is the requirement of a county to use an Albert Sensor – an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) that provides security alerts for known cyber threats, helping state and local governments identify malicious cyber activity. 

More than 900 Albert sensors have been implemented across the country, mostly to states and counties, as the federal government’s cybersecurity response following the Russian election interference of 2016. 

Similar to the “misinformation” surrounding ERIC, Hobbs dismissed the “misinformation” surrounding Albert sensors denying that it does not track metadata, a popular belief among some state GOP members. 

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