OLYMPIA — Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman introduced an elections security bill to help bolster security for voting systems and processes throughout the state in advance of the 2020 elections cycle and beyond. The legislation has received bipartisan support, with Sens. Hans Zeiger and Mark Mullet sponsoring the Senate bill and Reps. Jim Walsh and Brian Blake sponsoring the House bill.

“This comprehensive legislation is vital for state and local officials to securely administer elections in 2020 and the future. I’m grateful lawmakers agree elections security must be a top priority this session, and encourage the Legislature to act swiftly on this critical bill,” said Wyman.

Securities offered by proposed bill

The bill would strengthen elections security on four fronts – establish a clear chain of custody for ballots to limit opportunities for ballot tampering, eliminate cyber threats by removing risky electronic ballot-return methods, provide post-election security through statistical audits, and appropriate $1.8 million in order to draw $8.6 million in federal matching funds to augment security.

“A secure and resilient electoral process is perhaps the most important election-related policy issue we have going into this year’s election. This bill shows that Secretary of State Kim Wyman is out in front of the issue. She’s doing all that can be done to assure votes are properly cast and counted,” said Walsh, R-Aberdeen, ranking member on the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee.

One emphasis of the bill is to protect voters and people who collect ballots by providing a clear chain of custody for ballots. Sometimes referred to as “ballot harvesting,” a candidate, campaign official or another third-party may offer to return an individual’s completed, signed and sealed ballot on their behalf. However, if the ballot does not make its way to elections officials on time for that election, current law does not provide adequate recourse for the voter or ballot collector. Wyman’s legislation would define clear rules for ballot collection and make destroying or failing to deliver a voted ballot class C felonies.

“My concern with these activities is the risk to the voter and the person collecting the ballots,” said Wyman. “The surest way for a voter to guarantee their ballot is returned on time is drop it in an official drop box by 8 p.m. election day, but if they choose to entrust a stranger with their ballot, we need to ensure clear provisions are in place to protect everyone involved.”

Funding for election security

Another area of focus during the 2020 legislative session for The Office Secretary of State will be to secure funding for elections security improvements. In December, Congress approved the distribution of $425 million in grants, requiring a 20% state match, for states’ elections security investments. Washington is slated to receive $8.6 million from the federal government so long as the state can provide $1.8 million in matching funds.

Zeiger, ranking Republican on the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee, said the Legislature must prioritize elections security funding, as well as policy improvements, during their 60-day session.

“Washington state is leading the way on election cybersecurity, and we in the legislature need to do everything we can to support the good work that Secretary of State Kim Wyman is doing to protect our democracy,” he said. “We need to prioritize election cybersecurity in our supplemental budget and our policy work during the 2020 session.”

The 2020 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn March 12.