In a stunning last minute power grab by the Obama administration with just 14 days left in his Presidency, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement this evening officially declaring state election systems to be “critical infrastructure.” The statement from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson defines “election infrastructure” as “storage facilities, polling places, centralized vote tabulations locations, voter registration databases, voting machines” and all “other systems” to manage the election process…so pretty much everything.
I have determined that election infrastructure in this country should be designated as a subsector of the existing Government Facilities critical infrastructure sector. Given the vital role elections play in this country, it is clear that certain systems and assets of election infrastructure meet the definition of critical infrastructure, in fact and in law.
I have reached this determination so that election infrastructure will, on a more formal and enduring basis, be a priority for cybersecurity assistance and protections that the Department of Homeland Security provides to a range of private and public sector entities. By “election infrastructure,” we mean storage facilities, polling places, and centralized vote tabulations locations used to support the election process, and information and communications technology to include voter registration databases, voting machines, and other systems to manage the election process and report and display results on behalf of state and local governments.
Of course, it’s likely not a coincidence that the DHS made this announcement just hours after the “intelligence community” declassified their “Russian Hacking” propaganda which basically noted that RT has a very effective social media distribution platform while once again providing absolutely no actual evidence.
Johnson’s statement goes on to note that while many “state and local election officials are opposed to this designation” he went ahead with his decision anyway because that’s just what the Obama administration does.
Prior to reaching this determination, my staff and I consulted many state and local election officials; I am aware that many of them are opposed to this designation. It is important to stress what this designation does and does not mean. This designation does not mean a federal takeover, regulation, oversight or intrusion concerning elections in this country. This designation does nothing to change the role state and local governments have in administering and running elections.
The designation of election infrastructure as critical infrastructure subsector does mean that election infrastructure becomes a priority within the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. It also enables this Department to prioritize our cybersecurity assistance to state and local election officials, but only for those who request it. Further, the designation makes clear both domestically and internationally that election infrastructure enjoys all the benefits and protections of critical infrastructure that the U.S. government has to offer. Finally, a designation makes it easier for the federal government to have full and frank discussions with key stakeholders regarding sensitive vulnerability information.
Particularly in these times, this designation is simply the right and obvious thing to do.
Of course, one of the most vocal opponents of this move has been Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp who recently told Politico it is nothing more than an attempt to “subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security.”
During an earlier interview with the site Nextgov, Kemp warned: “The question remains whether the federal government will subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security.” Kemp told POLITICO he sees a “clear motivation from this White House” to expand federal control, citing Obama’s health care law, the Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation and the increased role of the Education Department in local schools.
To some election officials, this sounds like the first stage of a more intrusive plan.
“I think it’s kind of the nose under the tent,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat. “What I think a lot of folks get concerned about [is] when the federal government says, ‘Well, look, we’re not really interested in doing that, but we just want to give you this,’ and then all of a sudden this leads to something else.”
Meanwhile, Kemp continued on by noting that “this administration only has 15 days left in its term” and to make such a critical decision during the 11th hour “smacks of partisan politics.”
But we’re sure it’s nothing, Obama doesn’t really strike us as the type to play the “partisan politics” game.