Thursday, April 18, 2024

Secretary of State Steve Hobbs applauds new laws improving Washington’s elections

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 OLYMPIA - New laws and funding requested and supported by Secretary of State Steve Hobbs during the 2023 Legislative session will help ensure the integrity of Washington’s elections and improve access to the ballot for eligible voters.

The bipartisan elections measures signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee help advance Secretary Hobbs’ top priorities of election security, voter education, and fighting election disinformation.

“These new laws and critical funding will go a long way toward reducing barriers to voter registration and enhancing election security,” Secretary Hobbs said. “I thank the Legislature and Governor Inslee for the bipartisan support of these efforts to help ensure more secure and accessible elections and greater voter engagement and participation.”

These bills include:

Senate Bill (SB) 5208, Secretary of State-requested legislation sponsored by Sen. Yasmin Trudeau of Tacoma, enables online voter registration with the last four digits of a Social Security number instead of a driver license or state ID number. This benefits residents who do not need a driver license, including older voters and people with mobility issues.

SB 5112, Secretary of State-requested legislation sponsored by Sen. Sam Hunt of Olympia,  streamlines voter registration at the Washington Department of Licensing while improving security and accuracy of voter rolls. Voter registration becomes automatic for people who have proven their citizenship while applying for an enhanced driver license or enhanced state ID card.

SB 5082, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer of Bellevue, abolishes advisory votes, which voters have often found confusing. This bill clarifies that voters are being asked to decide issues, not provide opinions, and will save taxpayer money. Printing the advisory votes and their descriptions on ballots and in Voters’ Pamphlets cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in multiple election cycles.

“Advisory votes wasted public money, ballot space, and voters’ time, all to ask people to make decisions that had no consequences,” Sec. Hobbs said. “Getting rid of them was long overdue.”

SB 5152, Secretary of State-requested legislation sponsored by Sen. Javier Valdez of Seattle, prohibits political campaigns from using realistic but false images, videos, or audio with undisclosed manipulation, known as “deepfakes,” to deliberately spread election disinformation. Campaigns targeted by deepfakes can now go to court to seek an injunction and sue for damages.

“As technology evolves, we have to be vigilant about malicious disinformation in new ways,” Sec. Hobbs said. “This law provides a new tool to keep people from being misled.”

SB 5182, sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen of Seattle, moves the filing period to run for office to begin on the first Monday in May, instead of later in the month. This change provides more time for county elections officials to produce informational materials in multiple languages.

SB 5459, sponsored by Sen. Hunt, redirects public records requests for information from the statewide voter registration database to the Secretary of State rather than county elections offices. The bill also exempts voted ballots and voted ballot images from public disclosure to protect voters’ identities.

“Due to deliberate disinformation during and after the 2020 election season, county elections offices have been inundated with public records requests,” Secretary Hobbs added. “Many of these requests tend to be overly complicated, involve sensitive information, and are targeted attempts to distract and overwhelm county auditors.”

The biennial state operating budget signed by Gov. Inslee May 16 invests in election protection by renewing the Office of the Secretary of State’s Information Security Grant Program. Launched in November 2022, these grants provide qualified Washington counties up to $80,000 each to cover investments in cyber and physical security improvements. Counties have used this funding to purchase or upgrade security software, hardware, and subscriptions; hire IT security personnel; make structural enhancements; and more.

Visit the Office of the Secretary of State’s Elections webpage to learn more about election system security. Washington’s Office of the Secretary of State oversees a number of areas within state government, including managing state elections, registering corporations and charities, and governing the use of the state flag and state seal. The office also manages the State Archives and the State Library, documents extraordinary stories in Washington’s history through Legacy Washington, oversees the Combined Fund Drive for charitable giving by state employees, and administers the state’s Address Confidentiality Program to help protect survivors of crime.

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