Democratic members of the House Homeland Security Committee recently sent a public letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly requesting information regarding plans to work with states to secure election infrastructure in the wake of intelligence officials confirming that Russia sought to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election.
In January, DHS declared election systems, including storage facilities, polling places, communications technology, voting machines, and voter registration databases, as “critical infrastructure”. The designation specifically enables the department to prioritize cybersecurity assistance to state and local elections officials on a voluntary basis.
“We agree with you that ‘there is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than voting,’ and we must protect against efforts to undermine public confidence in our cherished democratic institutions,” the letter said. “There is no evidence that attempts to interfere in our elections – be it Russia, another state actor, or a non-state actor – are declining, and the cybersecurity threats to election infrastructure are only growing more complex.”
The members’ concerns stem from recent comments made by Kelly in committee testimony last month, which called into question his commitment to honor the designation entirely.
In that testimony, Kelly stated he had received “a lot of pushback from members of Congress, both sides of the aisle. Governors have pushed back on that… This will be a topic that we’ll bring up about do they feel it’s needed. But by no means do we have any intention, desire or move to take over any state process or tell states how to do business.”
The members concluded their letter by urging Kelly to not back down from the department’s commitment to honor the critical infrastructure designation and that each cosigned member was ready to assist DHS in its effort to educate concerned states on the meaning of the designation.
The letter was cosigned by U.S. Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Bill Keating (D-MA), Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), Filemon Vela (D-TX), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Lou Correa (D-CA), Val Demings (D-FL), and Nanette Barragán (D-CA).