An unprecedented federal and state collaboration to defend election systems against Russian interference ended with no obvious voting system compromises, although it’s not entirely clear why. Federal officials are wondering whether foreign agents are saving their ammunition for the 2020 presidential showdown or planning a late-stage misinformation campaign to claim Tuesday’s election had been tainted. It doesn’t change how vulnerable most states are to possible interference. “They’ve shown will, they’ve shown the capability,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said. “I certainly can’t speak to why they’re doing or not doing something. But I would just offer to put it in a broader perspective — they have a full-court press through many means … to try to affect our democracy.” In a news conference Wednesday after Democrats won control of the House, President Donald Trump said his administration worked hard to shore up elections and he’d issue a report soon on the effort.
U.S. intelligence officials have asserted that Russia, China, Iran and other countries are engaged in ongoing efforts to influence U.S. policy and voters in elections. Chris Krebs, head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said this year’s election was the warm-up.
“The midterm is not the big game,” he said. “The big game we think for the adversaries is probably 2020.”
Interference by Russia during the 2016 presidential race caught federal and state officials flat-footed. Since then, Homeland Security, the department tasked with helping states securing election systems, and state election officials have worked to create better communication to confront and deter election tampering.