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Washington elections officials do double duty this fall

Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs
Courtesy Washington Secretary of State's office
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Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs believes, with the November election approaching, that election disinformation campaigns will intensify in the next few weeks.

They're not only running re-election campaigns, they're trying to convince people the election system is legitimate.

County auditors seeking re-election in the Northwest are doing double duty this campaign season. Besides working to convince voters to give them another term in office, they’re also doing public education to convince people that the system isn’t rigged.

For example, on October 4, Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton will participate in a public forum in which she’ll talk about the roles and duties of the auditor’s office, from recording property records and issuing vehicle licenses to running elections.

Washington’s top elections official, Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, says events like this are the best way to rebuild trust in the election system. He says he encourages people to ask questions about how the voting system works.

“It’s not just, ‘Hey, don’t forget to vote. Don’t forget to turn your ballot.’ But, ‘Hey, did you know that we look at all your signatures? Did you know you can go to your county auditor’s office and check out the process? Did you know there are audits that happen before and after the process? We need to do more of that," he said.

The Spokane virtual event is sponsored by People for Effective Government and will start Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.

Hobbs says his office has been working with county elections offices around the state to test and improve voting equipment and procedures in advance of the election.

Local offices have begun sending ballots for November’s election to service members and others living out of state. Washington's official 18-day voting period begins October 21.

Hobbs says his office is working with county auditors around the state to test and improve voting equipment and procedures. He says it’s also serving as a rapid response unit when questions comes in from county elections officials.

“We have to be able to help them because they just don’t have the resources to do that. You have situations where the county auditors don’t have the most friendly relationship with their own commissioners and they’re not giving them the funding they should be getting," he said.

Hobbs says his office also helps local officials answer questions from patrons who ask questions they read on social media. They fielded claims about equipment known as an Albert sensor, which helps offices look for malicious activity from outside sources. Some believe the sensors are used to monitor votes.

“Some of the counties were being put to task, these county auditors, ‘You need to remove this sensor, which was not good to do that. And so these auditors contacted our office and we rapidly responded by giving them the fact sheets, the talking points to be able to push back on this false narrative that was being generated on this Albert sensor," he said.

Also on disinformation, Hobbs is applauding Meta’s decision to remove Facebook accounts from China meant to stir up the U.S. electorate before the November election.

“What’s very interesting is how they caught some of these fake accounts was the activity was usually done at a time when they’re up in China, but we’re asleep in the United States. So they caught some of it, some of the broken English," he said.

"China’s behind Russia on these type of things. Russia is very sophisticated. But still, we need to be aware what’s going on. Don’t simply take a friend request."

Hobbs says he expects election misinformation campaigns, both foreign and domestic, to pick up in the next few weeks.