CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – Casting a ballot is more secure after a long-standing partnership between Washington’s secretary of state and the Washington National Guard.
“This is the same type of support we provided in 2016, adding that extra layer of protection for the secretary of state’s office,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Pries, the commander of the 262nd Cyberspace Operations Squadron. “We just are engaged earlier this year than we have in the past.”
Since 2016, cybersecurity professionals from the Washington National Guard have assisted the secretary of state’s office to ensure that when a vote is cast in the state, it is counted correctly and accurately.
At the end of July, a seven-member team from the Washington National Guard and Washington State Guard teamed with staff from the secretary of state’s office to coordinate cybersecurity support for the Aug. 4 primary. Getting involved early provides the Guard and the secretary’s office awareness of any issues and ensures they’re detected early.
“Knowing what the customer’s objectives are helps us figure out how we are supporting,” said Pries. “We have a very established election system, so we are just that extra layer of protection on top of what they have already done.”
Since 1993, Washington began the shift from in-person voting to mail-in ballot voting. In 2005 the state Legislature enacted a measure that said counties in the state could decide to switch exclusively to “vote-by-mail.” By 2009, 98 percent of the state had made the switch to mail-in voting. Because the decision was made by the counties, all the power is held at the local county level.
“This is critical infrastructure, similar to missions we have done in the past and that has helped us build our expertise in election security in the past four years,” said Pries.
In 2018, elections systems were deemed “critical infrastructure” by the Department of Homeland Security and were part of a nationwide effort to upgrade security. Washington received nearly $8 million in federal funding to protect against future threats. Partnering with the Guard adds an additional layer of protection and continues an established relationship.
“This is seamless teamwork between the Guard, the secretary of state and the governor’s office,” said Pries. “No one involved wants anything but an accurate and fair election. I can say we are in good hands in Washington.”