Legislative Advocacy

House passes Secretary Hobbs’ election security bill, sending it to Governor Inslee

An elec­tion secu­ri­ty bill request­ed by Wash­ing­ton Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs has com­plet­ed its jour­ney through the leg­isla­tive process and will now be pre­sent­ed to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee for his sig­na­ture fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful floor vote in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives this evening.

By a vote of 58 to 37, the House vot­ed to adopt Sen­ate Bill 5843, prime spon­sored by Sen­a­tor Joe Nguyen (D‑34th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict: Seat­tle, Vashon Island). The bill would improve elec­tions secu­ri­ty in the fol­low­ing ways, as assessed by the Leg­is­la­ture’s non­par­ti­san staff:

  • Requires every coun­ty to install and main­tain an intru­sion detec­tion sys­tem to mon­i­tor their net­work and to dis­close cer­tain mali­cious activ­i­ty or breach­es of secu­ri­ty of infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy systems.
  • Autho­rizes the Sec­re­tary of State to cer­ti­fy the results of an elec­tion if a coun­ty can­vass­ing board refus­es to cer­ti­fy the results of the elec­tion with­out cause.
  • Estab­lish­es vio­la­tions and penal­ties relat­ed to elec­tion inter­fer­ence, includ­ing pro­hib­it­ed inter­fer­ence by elec­tion observers, destruc­tion of vot­ed bal­lots and cer­tain elec­tion sup­plies and mate­ri­als, inter­fer­ence with the oper­a­tion of a vot­ing cen­ter, and unau­tho­rized access to elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion loca­tions and systems.

The need for the first pro­vi­sion men­tioned above was trig­gered by the refusal of sev­er­al coun­ties con­trolled by right wing coun­ty com­mis­sions to keep in place what are known as “Albert sen­sors” — essen­tial tools for detect­ing intru­sions in elec­tions sys­tems. Here’s some back­ground from The Spokesman-Review:

A week before Elec­tion Day, state elec­tions offi­cials say they haven’t been able to per­suade three Wash­ing­ton coun­ties to install a secu­ri­ty device that mon­i­tors coun­ty net­work traf­fic for threats.

Almost every coun­ty in the Ever­green State uses an inter­net secu­ri­ty sys­tem called an Albert sen­sor, an arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent tool that mon­i­tors net­work traf­fic for sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty. Accord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Office of the Sec­re­tary of State, 36 out of 39 coun­ties had an oper­at­ing Albert sen­sor installed as of Tues­day. Grant, Fer­ry and Lin­coln coun­ties do not, the agency reported.

Under state law, coun­ties have legal author­i­ty to make deci­sions about their own inter­net secu­ri­ty. That job most often falls into the hands of coun­ty com­mis­sion­ers. State Sec­re­tary Steve Hobbs has repeat­ed­ly expressed con­cern about the coun­ties he says have ignored state and fed­er­al advice to install Albert sensors.

Hobbs told The Spokesman-Review in an inter­view that con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and dis­in­for­ma­tion began to cir­cu­late around the state about the secu­ri­ty devices in 2021. Albert sen­sors are the Home­land Secu­ri­ty stan­dard, the sec­re­tary added.

“Most states have Albert sen­sors,” Hobbs said. “The Sec­re­tary of State’s Office prefers the Albert sen­sor to alter­nate security.”

Hobbs told the Spokesman­’s Ellen Den­nis that he was pre­pared to intro­duce leg­is­la­tion to require Grant, Fer­ry, and Lin­coln coun­ties to comply:

“It’s get­ting to the point now where I might have to intro­duce leg­is­la­tion for min­i­mum stan­dards of secu­ri­ty,” Hobbs said. “… I know it’s polit­i­cal expe­di­en­cy on their part to be able to say, ‘We’ve got some­thing, and it’s not the Albert sen­sor.’ Because right now mis­in­for­ma­tion is direct­ed at the Albert sensor.”

True to his word, Hobbs fol­lowed up and worked with Sen­a­tor Nguyen to intro­duce SB 5843, which was cospon­sored by Repub­li­can Matt Boehnke.

Impor­tant­ly, the bill now explic­it­ly makes it a felony to “pro­vide unau­tho­rized access to a per­son or enti­ty to phys­i­cal loca­tions or elec­tron­ic or phys­i­cal access to elec­tion soft­ware or hard­ware used in any ele­ment of con­duct of an elec­tion.” Giv­en the behav­ior we saw in the wake of the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion from elec­tion deniers and their enablers around the coun­try, this is a wel­come safe­guard, and it will take effect in time for this year’s pres­i­den­tial election.

The roll call in the House was as follows:

Roll Call
SB 5843
Elec­tion secu­ri­ty breaches
3rd Read­ing & Final Passage
2/27/2024

Yeas: 58; Nays: 37; Excused: 3

Vot­ing Yea: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Alvara­do, Bate­man, Berg, Bergquist, Berry, Bronoske, Callan, Chap­man, Chopp, Cortes, Davis, Doglio, Don­aghy, Duerr, Enten­man, Fari­var, Fey, Fitzgib­bon, Fos­se, Good­man, Gregerson, Hack­ney, Klo­ba, Leav­itt, Lekanoff, Macri, Mena, Mor­gan, Nance, Orms­by, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Paul, Peter­son, Pol­let, Ramel, Ramos, Reed, Reeves, Ric­cel­li, Rule, Ryu, San­tos, Senn, Shavers, Sim­mons, Slat­ter, Springer, Stearns, Stonier, Street, Tay­lor, Thai, Tharinger, Tim­mons, Walen, Wylie, Jinkins

Vot­ing Nay: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Abbarno, Barkis, Barnard, Caldier, Cham­bers, Cheney, Chris­t­ian, Con­nors, Cou­ture, Dent, Dye, Eslick, Goehn­er, Gra­ham, Grif­fey, Har­ris, Hutchins, Jacob­sen, Klick­er, Kretz, Low, May­cum­ber, McClin­tock, McEn­tire, Mos­bruck­er, Orcutt, Robert­son, Rude, San­dlin, Schmick, Schmidt, Steele, Stokes­bary, Walsh, Waters, Wilcox, Ybarra

Excused: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Chan­dler, Cor­ry, Volz

Repub­li­cans stuck togeth­er in oppo­si­tion to bill, result­ing in its pas­sage along par­ty lines (three Repub­li­cans missed the vote). In the Sen­ate, the bill received a mere three nay votes, as you can see from the Feb­ru­ary 2nd roll call:

Roll Call
SB 5843
Elec­tion secu­ri­ty breaches
3rd Read­ing & Final Passage
2/2/2024

Yeas: 46; Nays: 3

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tors Bil­lig, Boehnke, Braun, Cleve­land, Con­way, Dhin­gra, Dozi­er, For­tu­na­to, Frame, Gildon, Hansen, Hasegawa, Hawkins, Holy, Hunt, Kauff­man, Keis­er, King, Kud­er­er, Liias, Lovelett, Lovick, MacEwen, McCune, Mul­let, Muz­za­ll, Nguyen, Nobles, Ped­er­sen, Ran­dall, Rivers, Robin­son, Sal­daña, Salomon, Shew­make, Stan­ford, Tor­res, Trudeau, Valdez, Van De Wege, Wag­oner, War­nick, Well­man, Wil­son, C., Wil­son, J., Wil­son, L.

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tors Pad­den, Schoesler, Short

House Repub­li­cans made sev­er­al efforts to amend the bill, which were rejected.

One amend­ment would have pro­vid­ed that intru­sion detec­tion sys­tem providers
could be held liable for any mali­cious activ­i­ty direct­ly attrib­ut­able to the intru­sion detec­tion sys­tem. Anoth­er would have bizarrely required that an intru­sion detec­tion sys­tem not oper­ate behind the fire­wall of a coun­ty auditor.

Thank­ful­ly, the var­i­ous schemes to weak­en the bill went nowhere. Now we’re on the verge of hav­ing some impor­tant new safe­guards added to our state elec­tions code at a crit­i­cal junc­ture. Con­grat­u­la­tions to Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs, Sen­a­tor Nguyen, and all who worked on this time­ly legislation.

Andrew Villeneuve

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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