OLYMPIA—On March 4, lawmakers in the state Senate passed a pair of bills sponsored by Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Ballard, to strengthen election protections and fund voter education. Both bills were voted out with strong, bipartisan support.
House Bill 1251 will protect Washington’s elections from cyber-attacks and help prepare local and state officials to respond to possible election interference. The bill requires the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Chief Information Officer to consult with county auditors to identify instances of security breaches in elections systems and data and determine whether the source of any breaches are foreign or domestic entities. It also requires the Secretary of State to report to the Legislature when security breaches occur, as well as provide recommendations to increase the security of Washington’s elections system.
“Elections are the foundation of our representative democracy. Our legitimacy depends on the people believing that we are their duly elected representatives,” said Tarleton. “It’s critical that we take steps to guard against cyber-attacks and election interference, whether foreign or domestic, to help preserve the integrity of our electoral system.”
House Bill 2421 will make the state responsible for helping local auditors finance statewide elections by requiring the Office of the Secretary of State to reimburse local elections offices for the costs of conducting state and federal elections. In addition, the bill requires county auditors and elections directors to conduct voter education and outreach, reimbursing them for no less than 10 percent of those costs, prorated for voter population.
Broad voter outreach could include printed or multimedia materials, as well as paid advertising and news coverage. Voter education could include information on the importance of voting as an act of civic engagement, the voting process, voter registration, ballot deadlines, and election certification. Finally, the bill would also fund ballot boxes in areas that have yet to receive one, as well as outreach to communities with a history of poor voter turnout.
“It’s imperative that our youngest voters are educated early, so they understand the importance of their participation in our electoral process,” said Rep. Steve Bergquist, D-Renton. “That’s why this bill is so valuable. It will get civic education resources out into our communities and help build an engaged electorate.”
“For so many communities in our state, information about the voting and election process is inaccessible or hard to access. When it comes to democracy, lack of information leads to a lack of participation in the civic process. I am proud that Washington is expanding civic engagement by requiring outreach to those who are eager to participate,” said Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, Chair of the House State Government & Tribal Relations Committee.
“Elections are critical infrastructure. County auditors and elections officials are facing intense pressure to run smooth and efficient elections. Fully funding elections in years when our costs are the highest lifts a huge burden from counties and will provide more resources for voter outreach and election security,” said Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall. “Election officials statewide are elated. We have been working to fully fund elections for decades. This year we had the right coalition and the right solution.”
The House will now consider both bills as amended by the Senate. Once final versions are agreed upon, the legislation will head to the governor’s desk for signature.
“There is nothing more important to ensure access to democracy than free and fair elections,” said Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia. “Washington has come a long way in recent years with the passage of the state Voting Rights Act and other measures that improve voting access for disenfranchised communities, and the state as a whole. The two bills passed Wednesday night continue our work in improving our elections system.”
The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on March 12.