In the wake of a leaked intelligence document describing Russian attempts to hack voting systems, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly doubled down on maintaining the designation of voting systems as critical infrastructure. Kelly told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on June 6 that despite pushback he’s received from state and local election officials — as well as “many members of Congress” — he would support the designation put in place by his predecessor Jeh Johnson. “I don’t believe we should” back off on the critical infrastructure designation, he testified, adding that he plans to meet with state officials next week to further discuss how DHS can make sure states’ election systems are protected. “We’re here to help,” he said. “There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than voting.”
Johnson made the formal designation Jan. 6 in response to allegations of Russian hacking aimed at state election and voter data systems. The designation guarantees states priority in DHS assistance requests and greater access to information on cyber vulnerabilities. Johnson and Kelly have both stressed that such federal assistance is voluntary.
Committee ranking member Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) added her support for maintaining the critical infrastructure designation, reasoning that “it would be distressing if the United States would then pull back from the ability to help states protect these voter files, and [DHS is] going to be in the best position to do that.”