Secretaries of State Fume Over Election Critical Infrastructure Designation

Designating state election systems to the nation’s critical infrastructure was a misstep on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, according to William Gardner, New Hampshire’s secretary of state.

Gardner, who has served in that position since 1976, said the designation invites too much Federal presence into state election processes.

“I’m a strong advocate to keep the Federal government out of the election. I don’t like the idea that some Federal agency could cancel the presidential election.”

According to a Jan. 6 statement from Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, the agency’s designation means that DHS will supply the election infrastructure with increased cybersecurity assistance. Although the designation to critical infrastructure was announced two months after the election, DHS led efforts to provide cyber assistance to states well before Nov. 8.

Among DHS’s Office of Cybersecurity and Communications (CS&C) services were Cyber Hygiene (CH) checks and Risk and Vulnerability Assessments (RVA). Gardner said DHS reached out to New Hampshire repeatedly offering its services, but he declined every time.

“People from Homeland Security kept calling us, trying to convince us to do some kind of cyber hygiene,” Gardner said. “We said we don’t need it. We had elections in the middle of the Civil War and World War II.”

It is unclear as to how many states enlisted DHS for cybersecurity help before the election. Gardner said he read various reports on DHS dispensing its services to states. Before the election, Gardner said he saw reports stating that 48 states had agreed to receive DHS help. After the election, other reports claimed 36 states received help. DHS, on the other hand, said that all 50 states have been in contact with the agency for cybersecurity help.

Gardner joins a crowd of other secretaries of state who have expressed discomfort over DHS’s recent critical infrastructure designation. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said his state’s celebration of record voter turnout numbers is tarnished by “such blatant irreverence for Federal law.”

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said that security partnerships are beneficial, but this designation “raises important questions.”

Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, expressed similar fears as Gardner. He said DHS’s action brings the Federal government closer to controlling the entire election process.

“I am completely opposed to this blatant overreach and will continue to fight to keep election systems under the control of state government where it belongs,” Kemp said.

Kemp’s fight will rage on Fed. 17, when the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) congregates in Washington, D.C., for its annual meeting. Gardner said he looks forward to this meeting and the resolutions that will emerge from it. According to a statement from NASS, the organization members will learn more about the designation’s implications and work to preserve the integrity of the states’ election system.

DHS’s designation arrived the same day as a declassified intelligence report revealing that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” to denigrate Hillary Clinton and help President-elect Donald Trump in the 2016 election. While Gardner acknowledged that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was hacked, he said there has been no credible evidence of voting machine tampering in New Hampshire or any other state.

“I don’t know of any Russian interference in this state. I don’t have firsthand information,” Gardner said. “The states created the Federal government. The people created the state of New Hampshire. We take care of ourselves here.”

 

 

Eleanor Lamb
About Eleanor Lamb
Eleanor Lamb is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Big Data, FITARA, Homeland Security, Education, Workforce Issues, and Civilian Agencies.
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