The following editorial was originally published in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
Russian interference in the 2016 election was not limited to spreading political discord via social media. It also involved hacking.
And election officials across America, Democrats and Republicans, continue to voice concern about future hacking of computer systems used for voting.
Perhaps they need to visit Washington state for some tips. Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, has been focused on preventing fraud for years.
Wyman has been beefing up security. She has been working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to beef up cyber security for voter registration and emailed ballots from service members stationed out of the country.
But what makes Washington state’s vote-by-mail election system extremely secure is paper. When it comes to conducting elections, paper ballots are the gold standard. Those ballots can’t be tampered with through a cyberattack and can always be recounted when necessary.
Washington mostly uses paper ballots because its statewide elections are conducted via (snail) mail.
In Walla Walla County, for example, the vote count data is not put on a network where other computers could have access. County Elections Supervisor Dave Valiant said in 2016 that results are put on a Zip disk and then carried to a Zip drive (introduced in 1994) to be loaded onto a computer.
Since there is no internet involved — only the old fashioned sneaker-net (as in walking) — computer hackers can’t access or change the information.
While paper ballots are at the core of our local and state election system, computers are involved. Over time, as new equipment and technology are introduced into conducting elections, the need for the best cybersecurity will increase.
Still, paper ballots should remain at the core of the election system and elsewhere in the nation. Sure, there might be faster and flashier ways to vote, but having a paper record (carefully tracked each step of the way) is critical to ensuring confidence in elections.
At some point, computer-based voting might become so secure that it could replace vote-by-mail voting. That day isn’t here.
Until then, paper ballots should be preserved as a way to ensure our election results aren’t hacked by Russia or any other foreign power.