Secretary Hobbs warns Washington voters to be alert for deepfakes

  • Fake elections robocall simulating President Biden’s voice reported in New Hampshire
  • Hobbs-requested legislation in 2023 banned deepfake election ads in Washington

OLYMPIA — After news reports that registered voters in New Hampshire have received fake phone calls simulating President Joe Biden speaking negatively about the Presidential Primary, Secretary of State Steve Hobbs warned Washington voters that deepfakes are an ongoing threat to elections and the voting public.

In a recording posted by NBC News, the faked Biden voice implores voters to “save your vote for the November election” rather than participating in Tuesday’s state Presidential Primary.

Washington state legislation requested and supported by Secretary Hobbs in 2023 prohibited deepfake advertising by political campaigns within Washington and empowered candidates targeted by faked statements to sue for damages.

“We have several high-interest elections this year, which creates a target-rich environment for these bad actors to subject voters to deepfakes and other misinformation,” Secretary Hobbs said. “I am grateful that the Legislature supported my bill to get ahead of this situation, and helped us enact a law that every state ought to emulate.

“The disturbing situation we’ve seen in New Hampshire’s campaign is just the tip of the iceberg for 2024,” Hobbs continued. “These false messages will get more polished and harder to tell from real ones. Voters must remain vigilant and skeptical, and turn to trusted information sources to verify things that just don’t seem right.”

Washington’s Presidential Primary will be held March 12. Statewide offices will be on the ballot in the August 6 Primary, and decisions on the presidency and state offices will go before voters in the November 5 General Election ballot. Washington’s deepfakes law, found in RCW 42.62 and created by Secretary Hobbs’ requested Senate Bill 5152 in 2023, was one of America’s first restrictions on the use of synthetic media in political campaigning, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Under it, political campaigns must disclose when using falsely generated or manipulated video, images, or audio. A failure to disclose creates a potential civil liability.

“As artificial intelligence continues to evolve, we as state leaders have a responsibility to make sure our laws evolve as well to protect the public,” Secretary Hobbs said. “I will continue to work with the Legislature to keep Washington ahead of threats to the integrity of our elections.”

Washington’s Office of the Secretary of State oversees a number of areas within state government, including managing state elections, registering corporations and charities, and governing the use of the state flag and state seal. The office also manages the State Archives and the State Library, documents extraordinary stories in Washington’s history through Legacy Washington, oversees the Combined Fund Drive for charitable giving by state employees, and administers the state’s Address Confidentiality Program to help protect survivors of crime.