Williams disappointed at DHS election systems classification

Wayne Williams

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams has joined his peers across the country in expressing disappointment with the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to classify election systems as “critical infrastructure” without a promised collaboration process.

A news release from Williams’ office said one concern is that the classification may give the federal government more control over elections, which are run by states and local governments. The designation was made Friday, Jan. 6.

“Secretaries of state from both parties asked (the department) to work with us to engage in a collaborative process. Homeland Security promised to do that last fall,” Williams said. “Disappointingly, it acted unilaterally.”

In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said, “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.”

Johnson said he was aware many election officials oppose the move.

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

Johnson said the designation does mean election infrastructure becomes a priority within the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. It also enables the department to prioritize its cybersecurity assistance to state and local election officials, but only for those who request it.

Denise Merrill, Connecticut’s secretary of state and president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, addressed the issue during a media call Monday, Jan 10.

“Johnson’s announcement of a critical infrastructure classification for election systems is legally and historically unprecedented, raising many questions and concerns for states and localities with authority over the administration of our voting process,” she said. “We are not entirely sure exactly what it means yet. But I think it does indeed define a new role for the federal government in elections and that, I think, holds concerns for all of us.”

Merrill also pointed out that there is “no credible evidence of hacking, including attempted hacking of voting machines or vote counting” in any state during the 2016 presidential election.

“State and local autonomy over elections is our greatest asset against malicious cyber attacks and manipulation. Our decentralized, low-connectivity electoral process is inherently designed to withstand such threats,” she said.

The group will discuss the situation at its winter conference in Washington, D.C., in February. Williams is the western region vice president of the group.

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