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Washington's secretary of state emphasizes voter education

Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs
Courtesy Secretary of State's Office
Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs

Since taking office as Washington’s Secretary of State two years ago, Steve Hobbs has made it his mission to teach people more about our election system.

“We have done a really good job of telling people when to vote, but we haven’t done a very good job of telling them what happens to their ballot. That has got to change and that’s what we’re trying to do," Hobbs said.

With ballots due to be mailed in about three weeks in Washington, he hopes for a quiet election with a minimum of complaining about stolen elections.

“I think it’s (attitudes about stolen elections) changing. The problem is I’m worried about next year," he said.

"I’m hoping that we can keep up with the efforts of educating Washingtonians. We put in a big investment last year with the ‘Vote with Confidence’ campaign. We’re doing it again this year. I’m going to try to do it again next year. This is going to have to be continuous now. If we can keep it down, arm people with the truth with what is really going on, I think that will mitigate a lot of this misinformation that’s happening.”

Next year is a big year because of the presidential elections. But it’s also important in Washington because voters will select a new governor, a new attorney general and lands commissioner. Other statewide officials, including Hobbs, will face challenges. Voters in both Washington and Idaho will choose candidates for their state legislatures.

With all of that going on, Hobbs says election education will continue to be important.

“You know, I always wonder what if people knew about, let’s say, ERIC, the Electronic Registration Information Center, where, if you’re registered in another state, they’ll know about it. If you’re voting in an election twice, we will know about it. A lot of people don’t know about that," he said.

"A lot of people don’t know about the fact that tabulations machines are not connected to the Internet. Had people known about that, would you have had a January 6? I don’t know. I think there’s probably a possibility that that wouldn’t have happened," Hobbs said.

"But, unfortunately, secretaries of state and those election officials, they never talked about that because we always took that for granted. Elections happen and we just didn’t think about it. Unfortunately, now we’ve got to talk about that.”

Election skepticism isn’t just an issue for a small segment of voters. There are also questions from some election officials themselves, particularly about a tool that many local and state governments use to monitor their computer networks for security issues. It’s called an Albert sensor.

In November 2022, a Spokesman-Review story talked about Ferry and Lincoln County commissioners moving to remove the Albert sensors from the county's election-related computers. Has Hobbs talked with them about that?

“Constantly," he said. "What we’ve been doing is trying to use a carrot approach to all of this. Our office is handing out assistance to counties, $80,000 per year for three years. But the requirement is you have to have an Albert sensor. That has not moved these two counties yet, but my hope is that eventually they will move in that direction.

"If not, I am thinking about perhaps doing some minimum standards through a bill, legislation. I don’t want to go down that route, but I really do have to think about the security of our elections in the states. We might go down that road," Hobbs said.

Have other counties have balked too?

“Yeah, we had another county where they didn’t do it, not because they didn’t want to do it," he said. "In order to put in an Albert sensor, you need a server rack, because it basically looks like a computer and you needed rack space and those racks are very expensive. Getting space is premium, especially for tiny counties. We worked with them to try to get them the rack and that money is supposed to help do that.”

Does the fact that he's a Democrat make a difference to some of these rural counties that are overwhelmingly Republican?

“That’s why I lean heavily on my partners, the Republican auditors in rural counties because they get it. We work really well with these auditors," Hobbs said.

"I don’t know why they don’t quit because there’s so much pressure from within their own party. And it’s tough. I know what it’s like. I was a state senator. Being a moderate, it’s tough in that caucus and it’s tough for them because they’re seeing people at their church, at their grocery store and they’re constantly reminding them, like, hey, elections are transparent. Why don’t you come down and see the process. That’s why we’re trying to assist them as much as possible with these grants and also with assistance on getting the word out about elections. So there’s money for them to do that as well.”

Hobbs says his office will be doing a table top exercise next month with federal election officials to begin preparations for the 2024 presidential election.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.