Now that the 2019 elections have been certified, what is your assessment of the new VoteWA election system?
First, I am so proud of our county auditors, election administrators, and my elections team. Our partnership enabled us to develop and implement VoteWA, a complex, statewide IT election system, in less than a year. The VoteWA project was on-time, on-scope, and on-budget! Together, we moved Washington’s election infrastructure into the 21st century and saved counties hundreds of thousands of dollars in replacement and maintenance costs.
When I ran for Secretary of State, one of my highest priorities was modernizing our aging election computer networks. There were two statewide systems and 39 county systems that had been developed between 2004 to 2008. These systems needed to be updated to improve security and to be able to implement potential changes in state law, like same day voter registration.
My office partnered with county auditors and election administrators from across the state to design, develop, and install an integrated voter registration and election management system. In 2018, a vendor was selected and by June of this year, we went live with the VoteWA system. Despite the short window for design, development and implementation, we used VoteWA to successfully conduct the 2019 Primary and General Elections. It provided the centralized security, accuracy, and accessibility we needed not only to conduct the elections, but implement the new Same Day Registration, Automatic Registration, and the Future Voter legislation.
Beyond the pride I share in leading this project, my assessment of VoteWA is one of gratitude and satisfaction. The lessons learned in 2019 are helping us prepare for the five elections we will conduct in 2020. I am confident that the system will be ready to serve our voters and give election workers the tools needed for the demands which come with a record-setting turnout of a Presidential Election. Each county election leader and member of my elections team deserves immense credit and recognition for their accomplishment of creating VoteWA.
What more needs to be done to make sure our election system is secure?
Election security is never ending. Bad guys need to get it right just once, while we need to be ahead of them and get it right one hundred percent of the time. We are only as strong as our weakest link, so each aspect of the elections system needs to be strong. Modernizing our system allowed us to implement stronger firewalls and comprehensive monitoring systems. With those important steps forward, the VoteWA project showed me where we need to improve as a state – eliminating the resource disparity among our county partners.
A small group of larger counties are well-resourced for elections, while others run on shoe-string budgets. When we look at our small and medium sized counties, they are lucky if they have IT support for their counties, let alone IT support within their elections’ offices. This becomes a statewide liability in our more connected IT environment. I wanted to ensure these counties had the technical support they needed to be successful.
This led us to develop and deploy the first statewide, election focused, cyber security team in the country. The team members operate our Security Operations Center, or SOC, which provides security and monitoring of our statewide election system and provides support to our county election systems as well. The SOC team provides support, training, testing, and cybersecurity information to county election officials. These efforts are part of our continuous improvement plan for election security and integrity.
I will be introducing an Election Security bill in January to further assist state and county election officers in delivering accurate, accessible and secure elections. While the bill does recognize the need for more resources at the county level, it also includes policy changes necessary to protect ballot handling, chain of custody, auditing, cyber-security, and disaster preparedness.
Looking back on the past seven years as Secretary of State, what do you consider to be your top accomplishments?
I have a few. The first, would be making our state’s Presidential Primary more meaningful. For the first time in state history, the Presidential Primary will be held in early March and both political parties will use the results of the Primary in their nominating processes. This has also led to discussions in the legislature towards moving the regular Primary date to either May or June. The past few August Primary Elections have demonstrated voters are not engaged in the summertime and an earlier Primary would increase participation.
Second, I am proud of our partnerships developing Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP) with our county partners and the Washington National Guard (WNG). This work led to the groundbreaking work we have done with the WNG Cyber Security Unit and the development of our Elections Security Operations Center. These have helped our state improve security for the 2018-19 elections, build, implement, and successfully use our VoteWA election system, and prepare for secure 2020 elections.
Third, would be making it easier to do business in Washington by streamlining our corporations and charities filing processes. Not only did we reduce the time it takes to register a business with our office, we were able to reduce or eliminate a few fees, saving our customers over $11 million each year to put back into our local communities.
The fourth would be stabilizing the funding for the state library. When I was sworn into office in 2013, the future of the state library was in doubt. This stable funding ensures our residents have access to a first-rate research collection and that local libraries can maximize their resources with access to federal LSTA funds and programs.
Finally, would be making our state’s history more accessible by expanding our digital archives collection to over 200 million records. Now the public can access, online, a larger portion of photographs, documents, and publications contained in the state archives. We expanded our public records training to state and local governments to assist them providing public records more effectively. Additionally, we helped preserve local government records by providing grants to many small, local jurisdictions.
Looking forward, what more would you like to accomplish?
I would like to improve the storage and preservation of our state’s history by completing our Library/Archives Building Project. Our historical records and documents are in spaces that are putting them at risk. We have begun the design and permitting process to site the building in Tumwater and I look forward to breaking ground on the project.
I want to continue working with the legislature and county auditors to fully fund our county election departments. The national election system has been designated as Critical Infrastructure by Presidents Obama and Trump. We need to ensure county election officials have the space, equipment, and trained staff to perform this important work, and the state needs to fund its share of costs.
While VoteWA is already a successful elections platform, this technical infrastructure must be resilient and well maintained. We must continue to improve its features and security to support counties – particularly the many under-resourced counties – in delivering accessible, accurate, and secure elections for voters. While we already have made significant strides in modernizing our election systems, we must continuously make advancements in cyber security technology. I will continue to ensure we balance access and security in our elections and work to remain a national leader in elections administration and cyber security practices.
The Democrats tend to promote candidates for Secretary of State who are ultra-partisan. In 2016, Tina Podlodowski was their candidates and many Democrats are supporting Gael Tarleton in 2020. Should the Secretary of State’s office be in the hands of ultra-partisan politicians?
The single greatest threat to our democratic institutions, especially our elections, is partisanship. When election officials on either side of the aisle act in a partisan manner, voters lose confidence in the system. I have watched Republican and Democratic election officials use their offices to move their side’s agendas forward. When this happens, accusations of voter fraud or voter suppression are made and are often taken to court. No matter the outcome, the public loses confidence in the election process.
Over 26 years of administering elections have shown me the importance of operating in a transparent, non-partisan, and neutral manner when performing my official duties. My guiding principle is to follow the law and make policy decisions that will instill voter confidence in our state’s elections. Everyone across the political spectrum must have confidence that the reported election results accurately reflect the way people voted and that our elections are secure, accessible, and fair.
Since my days as county election director I have approached my work by being a fair election ‘umpire,’. When I walk into my office, I set aside my personal, political beliefs and serve as Secretary of State for every Washingtonian, regardless of party affiliation. This is the reason I don’t publicly weigh in on issues. All of this has become even truer with the advent of social media. When people know where I stand on an issue (especially controversial issues) it can taint the way they think I perform my official duties.
I am always concerned when any candidate for offices that oversee elections advocate for highly partisan positions. We all must ensure the public has confidence in our elections.
In 2017 you went through cancer treatment. How is your health today?
Thank you for asking. I am feeling very good and am happy to be in the “Survivors Club.” I finished my radiation and chemotherapy treatments 2 ½ years ago and my last scan showed no signs of cancer! This was an important test, as it means my chance of recurrence dropped below 10%. I will continue to have scans and check-ups regularly and if they remain clear at the 5-year mark, I will be cured!
We would like to thank Secretary Wyman for her time during the busy holiday season. If you would like to contact the Secretary, you can email her at [email protected]