By Anna Giaritelli, Washington Examiner
Wayne Williams, Colorado’s secretary of state, and his counterpart from New Mexico on Thursday praised the Trump administration for helping to secure their election infrastructure ahead of the midterm elections next month.
“2016, the difference between then and now is the difference between night and day. We have an incredibly great working relationship with [the U.S. Department of Homeland Security],” Williams, a Republican, said at a panel on election security at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington on Thursday.
Williams said DHS made a “concerted effort” to learn how 10,000 state and local election jurisdictions carry out registration and elections, then moved to work with them in the two years since the 2016 election, when Russians tried to hack into voter registration rolls.
“We’ve seen significant changes take place at the federal level where they have been more responsive, more willing to listen to us,” Williams said. “You’ve seen the states come around as well as the feds are actually trying to figure out how elections work … The realization that this is an important threat to deal with has caused people who in the past had been stymied by bureaucracy to turn things around and instead really tackle this head-on.”
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, was elected in 2016. She said this is her first election working with DHS and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), but that she was impressed by the amount of support available.
“As individual states, we don’t have the capacity to fight a foreign state on our own, so of course we need a partnership with the government,” Oliver said at the event. “I really give so much credit to the EAC and DHS … They really have been making an effort, meeting with us on a local level, commuting to our local meetings, trying to learn: ‘What is it that you do here?'”
Williams said the government is sharing information of specific threats with states, at a rate that state officials can actually take that information and use it in real time.
He said in 2016, when Russians tried to extract information from voter registration databases, it was not until early 2017 until DHS told state secretaries about it. Williams added that now “that sharing is happening immediately, simultaneously.”
“It’s a lot, and that’s a good thing,” added Oliver.
As part of the federal government’s response to the 2016 incidents, Congress made $300 million available for local regions to use to defend their systems from bad actors in 2018. Williams said he had expected the money to take months or years to get to them, but it was disseminated in an “instant” so states could use it in the midterm cycle.
Matthew Masterson, senior cybersecurity adviser at DHS, said the jurisdictions with the greatest needs have been counties.
Williams said as part of its work to see how strong Colorado’s systems are, DHS sent “white hat hackers” to his state to hack into its systems, as well as another team to look for “latent stuff.”
“It allows us to see the bigger picture, right? To understand the threat landscape and to understand what types of support services, information can help these folks protect their systems,” said Masterson. “And then it helps them receive their information to protect systems.”