Posted by Pete DeLaunay on Apr 04, 2024

When Steve Hobbs was appointed Secretary of State in 2021, he never dreamed he would be threatened or need a security clearance. “Elections are a big deal now”, he said, “as the election of 2022 changed everything”. Where the Secretary of State’s Office once simply supported County Auditors, promoted voter registration and voting; the office now battles misinformation and disinformation campaigns that “pepper our population using social”.

The Secretary of State’s Office combats misinformation with a national program called the “Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC)” as a valuable multistate partnership. ERIC collaborates with elections officials across the country, including Washington State, to keep voter rolls up-to-date and accurate.

Although accused of violating personal privacy by some, Secretary Hobbs has employed an artificial intelligence (AI) program to track election and voter misinformation and disinformation on social media. The AI system identifies harmful narratives so the Secretary of State can counter false information in real time.

“In addition to dealing with people in the U.S. that use disinformation, cybersecurity experts say overseas actors like Russia and China are constantly threatening data and they don’t’ care if you are a Republican or a Democrat, they just want to destroy us,” he said.

“The implications of artificial intelligence in the hands of bad actors are terrifying,” he continued. “Accusations by some about our use of social media tools as surveilling Americans is unfounded. We are just pulling information from the internet to know what is going on, and what is being said during elections with content that can be very dangerous.”

He said Russia has an entire ‘department’ dedicated to artificial intelligence and the proliferation of disinformation. “These foreign actors post disinformation that the Secretary of State’s Office picks up then retweets to share accurate information often disclosing whether the false post is from a real person, a bot or someone in St. Petersburg (Russia).”

While the lion’s share of his remarks described his work in elections, he offered an overview of the Office of Secretary of State that includes eight divisions and 300 employees up to 350 employees during election years. The Archives Division, for example, stores birth certificates and related legal documents. It also publishes Washington State history books and playbooks that highlight important events in Washington like the Bolt Decision on

fishing rights for indigenous peoples, and Indochinese Refugee Resettlement among other significant events.

Secretary Hobbs is a graduate of WSU and Lake Stevens Rotarian who is married with two sons in the National Guard, and a middle child who has special needs. Enlisted in the military at age 17, Secretary Hobbs now serves as a lieutenant colonel in the US Army National Guard where he is Commander of Joint Force Headquarters Washington Army National Guard. During the pandemic, for several months Secretary Hobbs was deployed and led 750 soldiers from JBLM in support of food banks across the state.

Faith Ireland offered the day’s inspiration by encouraging Rotarians to exercise their patriotism by exercising our first duty and that is to vote and be heard.

Eric Christensen Chair of the Seattle #4 and District 5030 Environmental sustainability Committee announced ‘Elwaha Exploration Day on May 4 for $10 that includes lunch. It is a special project with Nature Bridge, an organization that conducts scientific based environmental education for school aged students. Ten years ago, the Elwah dams were removed and the reiver has gone through an amazing transformation.

Rotarians will get a guided tour of water quality and habitat quality invoked with restoration of the Elwa salmon river. Information can be found on the Rotary website. \

Joel Padget introduced new member Bobbie Nickel who is Public affairs manager at Visit Seattle office.


-Thanks to meeting reporter Pete Delaunay for this week's FIRE report!

Media Sponsors