Thurston’s Board of County Commissioners discussed the possible construction of an Election Center, stating that election officers have been receiving threats through email and physical mail, during a meeting yesterday, August 28.
“I want to take a few minutes to emphasize the importance of securing this facility and the election staff that work here. Not only do election workers need to prepare for cyberattacks lobbied by foreign and domestic bad actors, but they also continue to face intimidation, harassment, and threats of violence,” Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs said. “When people do not feel safe, they often choose another location. As a result, we are seeing early retirements and resignations.”
Hobbs also shared the current situation where threats are being sent to election offices in Washington state through untraceable mail.
“Only a few weeks ago, two pieces of mail containing suspicious substances were delivered to elections offices in Washington State. The message was very clear — your safety is at risk,” said Hobbs.
David Elliott, Policy Director for the Secretary of State, specified the mail sent to the election centers — one containing fentanyl.
“One was sent to the King County Elections Office — it was in a return envelope for a ballot, and it contained a threatening letter and powder, and they discovered that that was fentanyl,” said Elliott.
“The other one was sent to Okanogan County, same thing. It was inside the security envelope of a ballot, so there was no way to connect [it] back to the one who sent it, and it was filled with powder, which turned out to be bicarbonate soda,” Elliot continued. “But as the Secretary said, the threat was certainly understood.”
Hobbs reported that other counties put efforts to safeguard election centers, where they secure theirs by installing a thorough bank search, a metal detection system, and gun safes outside the facility.
County Auditor Mary Hall’s request initiated the discussion of the center’s potential construction.
“I know there's been a lot of discussion about building out our voting center and we're calling it our election center because it's made up of two buildings,” said Hall. “The ballot processing center is one part of it, and then the voter services/voting center is the other one.”
Hobbs thanked Hall for her efforts in securing the funding and reimbursements that can be used for the center’s construction.
“The net result for Thurston County was $673,000 in addition to funding in 2022. Her office estimates more than $1.2 million new reimbursements to the county, expected in 2024. This change is permanent, and revenues will flow to the county each even year in the election,” Hobbs said.
District 1 Commissioner Carolina Mejia raised concerns about the lack of state-initiated funding and how the eyed construction will be ”laid on the backs of the Thurston County residents to be able to pay.”
“We have 300,000 from the state from a grant that the auditor got but that is just a penny and a big part that we have to do. You're coming here and telling us we need to have you secure the election center, but I'm not seeing the backing of the funding. I'm not seeing it from the state side,” said Mejia.
Mejia added that the county does need additional election security and that situations are happening, but the funding is necessary to make the center a priority.
“Everyone's saying we need more election security, but it's being laid on the backs of the commission of the Thurston County residents to be able to pay for this,” said Mejia. “I see a lot of talk about it, but not anyone putting their money where their mouth is. And that's really what counts for us, right? Because we need to see this funding to be able to prioritize it. But right now, as a board, we're facing a very financial[ly] difficult situation.”
Noe Isaac Cavazos, Protective Security Advisor at Homeland Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said there's a disparity from ‘very rich counties’ to ”more rural counties” and lauded Thurston for exerting efforts in the middle of financial constraints.
“Thurston County is trying to do the right thing in through Auditor Hall’s work, and I think it's something that should be commended,” Cavazos said.
“Unfortunately, like you said, there is no money coming from us other than the grants that are available that she has attempted to try and get some funding through.”
The board will continue the deliberation on a yet-unspecified date.
CORRECTION: August 30, 2023 - This article previously included the wrong title for Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs. We regret the error.
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