Weeks before the first U.S. primaries, 40 state election officials filed into a guarded Maryland office for a classified briefing about the threats they’re sure to face between now and the November vote. But they didn’t need much of a reminder about the menace from abroad. As they arrived, Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign in a conspiracy of bogus social-media postings. These state officials are the front-line defense against another assault on the elections this year — but many say they’re not getting much help from Washington, particularly with President Donald Trump downplaying or dismissing the threat of Russian meddling. With control of both chambers of Congress at stake, state officials admit they’re rushing to bolster security and overcome confusion about how to work with the federal government.
The situation is like “changing the tire while the car is driving,” New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said in an interview. “We’re already preparing for our elections in November and still trying to find out what we need to know.”
The Department of Homeland Security has said Russians targeted 21 state election systems during the 2016 elections. Though most were instances of Russians scanning state systems, in several cases, they were able to successfully penetrate networks. No vote results were tampered with. But that was then.