It was a clarion call from the White House briefing room, that the threat from Russia was real. The nation’s top national intelligence officials took to the West Wing podium, as Director of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen encapsulated the message in stark terms. “Our democracy is in the crosshairs,” Nielsen said. She added, “we have seen a willingness and a capability on the part of the Russians,” to hack the American election infrastructure, including voter rolls and voting machines. But only six blocks from the August news conference, the urgency may not have seemed apparent, with the D.C. Council in summer recess, and a $3 million election security grant waiting to be approved. With less than 60 days before the midterm elections, the District has spent $0 of the $3 million grant, according to interviews and documents reviewed by WUSA9.
Election officials are eager to buy new ballot scanners with increased vote protection features and hire a chief information officer for cyber security.
But the most optimistic timetable to make the first purchases and investments could be early in the fall, only days before voters in the nation’s capital head to the polls.
“I can’t be sure what we will actually be able to use before November,” said Rachel E. Coll, a spokesperson for the District of Columbia Board of Elections.