Joseph Marks | Nextgov | January 6, 2017 | 0 Comments

DHS Designates Election Systems Critical Infrastructure

Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The Homeland Security Department on Friday designated the nation’s election and voting systems as critical infrastructure, broadening government oversight of their physical and digital security and raising consequences for any foreign power that meddles with them.

The move comes as part of a governmentwide response to a Russian hacking and influence operation during the 2016 election intelligence officials said Friday was personally ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin and aimed at improving the electoral chances of President-elect Donald Trump.

Voting systems and polling places will join the likes of chemical plants, dams and electrical grids, which make up the nation’s 16 current critical infrastructure sectors. A 2013 policy directive from President Barack Obama tasks DHS with helping the private sector ensure critical infrastructure security.

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

The government views cyberattacks against critical infrastructure as carrying added weight and justifying more serious responses. A 2015 executive order established a special authority for the Treasury Department to sanction organizations and individuals that support cyberattacks against critical infrastructure.

Obama had to amend that order to impose sanctions in retaliation for Russia’s 2016 election meddling. In addition to imposing sanctions on Russian intelligence agencies and their leaders, Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats the State Department said were actually spies and ordered covert retaliations that may or may not have already begun.

The designation will also allow DHS to funnel addition resources to state and local election officials for cyber protections.

Several state and local officials opposed the designation, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson noted in a statement, presumably out of concerns about federal influence on state election operations.

“This designation does not mean a federal takeover, regulation, oversight or intrusion concerning elections in this country,” Johnson said. “This designation does nothing to change the role state and local governments have in administering and running elections.”

Johnson added that “particularly in these times, this designation is simply the right and obvious thing to do.”

Trump has consistently denied Russia’s role in data breaches at the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign that undermined her candidacy, saying the intelligence community’s conclusion was politically motivated.

He acknowledged after being briefed on a classified report about the breaches Friday that Russia and other nations frequently target U.S. organizations with cyberattacks but did not say whether his position on attribution in the DNC breach has shifted.

The DHS order defines election infrastructure as including physical locations such as polling places, tabulation locations and storage facilities as well as digital infrastructure such as voter registration databases, voting systems and auditing and validation systems.


Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.