Trust is the fundamental value that drives our belief in an election system that records and reports results in a timely manner. We trust our votes will be counted accurately. We trust election outcomes will be reported honestly. We trust our voting data will be stored safely and securely. And in Washington State the keeper of this trust is the Secretary of State, our “chief voting officer”.
Sadly we also live in an age of cyber crime and targeted, malicious computer system hacking. It’s therefore critical the Secretary of State must be technologically adept, keenly aware of technology trends, and proactive about utilizing the highest levels of testing and security within her office to keep our voting information safe.
Earlier this month I contacted the Washington Cyber Security Officer to report the Office of the Secretary of State apparently had exposed the personal data of our state’s four million registered voters to anyone with basic computer skills though the “My Vote” app. This data included voters’ personal cell phone numbers, personal email addresses, ballot delivery types, and the coding used to message military and overseas voters. By state law, this information is not permitted to be publicly available or accessible.
It turned out this exposure was real, and proper cyber security protocols had not been employed by Secretary Wyman to test and support our statewide voter database. Thankfully, this system failure was fixed before any apparent real harm was caused. But the problem should have never happened in the first place.
The New York Times raised questions about the security of Washington’s online voter registration system in October 2012, shortly after it was implemented. At that time, it took the Times less than three minutes to track down the information to access and compromise our state’s voter registration information.
As a former senior manager at Microsoft, I’m keenly aware that cyber security requires constant vigilance and testing, and that the current Secretary of State has simply not been effective in doing the job. Additionally, Secretary Wyman has not apologized to voters for this significant misstep, nor explained or identified exactly how her office will prevent problems like this, or of a much more serious nature, from happening in the future. She has not been open and transparent with voters about the system in which we all need to trust.
The biggest challenge for our next Secretary of State is a technology project — the complete modernization of our 39 County Election System, including the voting registration database, the Washington Election Information System and the elections websites of all 39 counties.
As the only candidate in this race with an extensive background in technology, I want to use my experience to ensure the Secretary of State’s office is safeguarding private information — and deepen the promise of trust in our voting system to help reverse the troubling trends of declining voter participation in our elections.
TINA PODLODOWSKI is the Democratic Candidate for Secretary of State. She previously served as a software executive and spent a term on the Seattle City Council