With special elections around the corner, local elections officials talk security

KING COUNTY, Wash. -- Washington state will hold a special election on Feb. 11 and officials are working to protect your vote.

“It’s hard to run elections it’s complicated,” King County Elections Director Julie Wise said.

Complicated is one thing, chaos is another as we saw in the Iowa caucuses.

Results were delayed after a code issue with a mobile phone app that precincts were using to report votes.

There is no evidence that any of the results were tampered with.

“We have no intention of creating an app,” Wise said.

In light of the debacle in Iowa, it’s a good reminder for Washington state voters that apps and online ballot transmissions are not allowed in our local precincts.

“We use vote by mail we are used to mailing out our voters all 1.3 million of them a paper ballot for every election,” Wise said.

But there are some exceptions.

Take for example the King County Conservation District, it’s an agency tasked with promoting sustainable use of natural resources and by law they hold their own elections separate from King County Elections.

“They are using an online ballot access it’s not an app it’s not what’s being used in the Iowa caucuses,” Wise said.

King County Elections is partnering with KCD to help tabulate the votes and on Wednesday the elections officials say they are confident that Democracy Live and Tusk Philanthropies who are the other partners have thoroughly vetted the online system.

“We can do security increases and access at the same time,” Sheila Nix with Tusk Philanthropies said.

Nix addressed state lawmakers in Olympia on Wednesday as they discussed Senate Bill 6412 that takes up election security. It will do a number of things including banning electronic returns of ballots from military service members and civilians overseas.

“Electronic transmission of voted ballots cannot be secured and it's susceptible to spearfishing and malware attacks,” Secretary of State Kim Wyman said.

Wyman is leading the charge asking for the state to remove electronic returns as well as improving 3rd party ballot collection ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Washington is only one of 5 states to allow electronic returns of ballots,” Wyman said.

But critics say what Wyman is pushing for will make it harder for some to vote.

“Anecdotally all of these military families said they couldn’t vote and it was really upsetting to them,” Nix said.

Also speaking against the measure is Mason County Auditor Paddy McGuire.

He told lawmakers about a specific incident of marines waiting for supplies to be dropped.

“A marine helicopter would go out and hover and drop off supplies it would land if the wind wasn’t blowing but the wind always blows,” McGuire said.

He says voting electronically was the only reliable way for people serving overseas.

So, for now, the debate continues on what is the right balance between safety and access.