Special counsel Robert Mueller’s latest move briefly hijacked a closed-door meeting of state election officials and federal cybersecurity personnel here last Friday, as phones buzzed with news alerts about his indictment against Russians allegedly behind a spree of hacks before the 2016 election. The interruption, described by several people in attendance, caught the room off guard. Some of the details in the indictment, describing the persistent efforts to compromise both Democratic Party and state election networks, were new to the officials present. That added urgency to the gathering’s mission—protecting the nation’s election machinery in November. It also reflected how tightly the secrets unearthed by Mueller’s investigators are held, even from the officials responsible for preventing a repeat in 2018.
Mr. Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence operatives helped shape the tenor of weekend meetings of the country’s state election officials. Usually reserved for staid administrative topics, the sessions this time were dominated by discussions of how to protect voting machines and databases from hackers.
It was the final time the secretaries of state and election directors would formally meet before voters head to the polls in November. Many officials have spent the past two years hiring new technology experts, requiring cybersecurity training for poll workers, enrolling in Department of Homeland Security computer vulnerability assessments and, in some cases, purchasing new voting equipment that includes paper-ballot backups that can be audited in the event of any cybermischief.