Q&A: Washington’s Secretary of State speaks on protecting voter access and fighting misinformation

SEATTLE — Washington’s newly-elected Secretary of State says a critical system for voters is under attack by critics spreading misinformation.

Secretary of State Steve Hobbs sat down with KIRO 7′s Ranji Sinha for a wide-ranging talk on voting, and he made his position clear on how voter access needs to be expanded nationwide and how he sees Washington state as a model for others.

Continue reading for highlights of KIRO 7′s In-Studio interview with Secretary of State Steve Hobbs.

Ranji Sinha: I’m Ranji Sinha in Studio, and we are joined this morning by Secretary of State Steve Hobbs. Thank you very much for coming to our studios, Mr. Secretary. [You’re] newly elected [after] decades with Republicans in the position. Now you [are] coming into the position. First off, what does that mean to you?

Steve Hobbs: Not much, because we had some great Secretaries of State before me. Though they were Republican, they were centrist. They were moderate Republicans.

It was Ralph Monroe who pushed the motor voter bill and then Sam Reid and Secretary Wyman who maintained the access to the ballot box, vote by mail.

Sinha: What do you need to do at the Secretary of State’s office to make sure people have confidence in the elections?

Hobbs: In the past, all we’ve done is tell people to vote and remember to put your ballot in the mail. But, now, we have to do more than that. We have to say, “Hey, put your ballot in the mail, but did you know the tabulation machines are not connected to the internet? Did you know that anyone can visit your county auditors [and] witness the processing of the ballot?”

Sinha: Giving them the answers is important, but also running elections is important. So, what can we say about the next cycle coming up, obviously a presidential one? What can we say is being done right now to make sure that election runs smoothly and that everyone believes it is a free and fair election?

Hobbs: We’re ramping up in the Secretary of State’s office and working with 39 county auditors out there to ensure the elections are safe, secure and transparent.

One of the things we’re trying to do is not only are we doubling the size of cyber security and putting out the word about how elections are ran, but we’re also doing things like putting out legislation out there to let people know that we’re leaning forward.

Sinha: Do you think [mail-in voting] is a system that could work in other states?

Hobbs: I absolutely do, and I certainly hope that the bill that’s sitting in Washington D.C. in the Senate passes because it models what we do in the state. About 90% [of] that bill is what we already do.

What we haven’t done is make elections a national holiday, I mean, that would be great for you and the rest of the folks out there, but my office would be working hard. Those are the things that we should keep on pushing for. I’d like to see our model across the United States.

Sinha: Would you like to see an election holiday?

Hobbs: I would because I think it focuses on the fact that we can have a voice in our democracy.

Sinha: I saw a recent release regarding ERIC. Can you explain what ERIC is?

Hobbs: ERIC is the Electronic Registration Information Center. States are connected to that—

Ranji: All states?

Hobbs: Not all states ... ERIC is 31 states.

Let’s say you were to move to another ERIC state. Let’s say you went to Colorado, and you register there. We would know about it. Also, data sharing — if you were to pass away, we will know about it.

Unfortunately, because [of] this false narrative, that ERIC is somehow a system that only helps Democrats, which is simply not true. Republicans are part of this. There’s good Republican Secretaries of State ... that believe in ERIC.

Unfortunately, this bad narrative ... is forcing states like Louisiana and Florida to pull out. ERIC is the system that protects you from election fraud, yet they’re buying into this false narrative.

I’m hoping, and I’m working with the other Secretaries of State, to urge those other states to reconsider and to join ERIC because there’s really no other way to do this effective data sharing.

Sinha: Going into the next election cycle, what do you think people need to know?

Hobbs: I think they need to know that their elections are secure, transparent and accessible. I think they need to know that county auditors are the ones to actually do it on-the-ground, and that they have access to that.

If you have questions, if you have concerns, contact your county auditor, contact the Secretary of State’s office. Visit us at sos.wa.gov. But don’t just take this false narrative, this misinformation that you might see on a tweet, on a Facebook post. Do a little more investigation about it.