Russia’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election yielded an unexpected result for officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): it has put them in the driver’s seat for protecting future elections from cyberattacks. Since January, officials at the agency have grappled with how to work with state and local election officials to share information on imminent threats and develop response plans for when things go awry. The effort has spawned tensions with state officials, who are wary of a “federal takeover” of elections and have panned the slow pace at which the federal government offered up details on the Russia threat. Homeland Security has pressed forward, standing up a special council in October to engage with election officials on potential threats and how to defend against and respond to them.
On the cusp of Tuesday’s gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, Homeland Security says agents have been on the ground in both states to help shore up their systems in advance of the vote.
“We’ve helped them get prepared,” Bob Kolasky, the acting deputy undersecretary at the department’s cyber wing, the National Protection and Programs Directorate, said in an interview. “They have been very active and good partners with this. We will be in contact with them on Election Day and we will be ready to do anything to help.”