May 29, 2023


In a move that Georgia Secretary of State Brian P. Kemp and others are describing as a major federal overreach, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is designating U.S. election systems critical infrastructure, a process previously handled on a state-by-state basis.
Johnson said Friday that “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.”

As noted by AP, the determination came after months of review and despite opposition from many states worried that the designation would lead to increased federal regulation or oversight on the many decentralized and locally run voting systems across the country. It was announced on the same day a declassified U.S. intelligence report said Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered” an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. The declassified report said that Russian intelligence services had “obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.” None of the systems targeted or compromised was involved in vote tallying, the report said.

According to DHS, currently DHS designates 16 public sectors as “critical infrastructure sectors,” including the communications sector, the food and agriculture sector and the energy sector. “Critical infrastructure” is defined as systems so vital to the US that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.  This new designation that was announced Friday gives Homeland Security secretary the responsibility to identify and prioritize those sectors and in addition election storage facilities, polling places, vote tabulation location, voter registration databases, voting machines and other systems used to manage the election process and report and display results. This new federal overreach does not require presidential action.

The designation allows for information to be withheld from the public when state, local and private partners meet to discuss election infrastructure security – potentially injecting secrecy into an election process that’s traditionally and expressly a transparent process. U.S. officials say such closed door conversations allow for frank discussion that would prevent bad actors from learning about vulnerabilities. DHS would also be able to grant security clearances when appropriate and provide more detailed threat information to states, the AP notes.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian P. Kemp who testified to a House Oversight subcommittee said that more federal oversight could make systems more vulnerable and protected records more accessible. Just Thursday, Kemp said that the designation is a Federal overreach into a sphere constitutionally reserved for the states and it smacks of partisan politics.  Kemp also has appealed to President-elect Donald Trump to investigate “failed cyberattacks” on the Georgia secretary of state’s network which traced to the DHS.