Congress

McCaskill pushes DHS to clarify rules for election aid

Claire McCaskill 

Sen. Claire McCaskill, ranking member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, wants answers from DHS on securing voting systems.

A Democratic senator pressed the Department of Homeland Security for clarity on the designation of election systems as critical infrastructure in response to reports of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In a letter to DHS Secretary John Kelly, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) raised questions about what exactly the designation means for states moving forward and how systems can be secured against future intervention by foreign actors.

The March 7 letter was first reported by Politico.

In January, former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson formally tagged state election systems -- including physical and electronic assets -- as critical infrastructure. According to DHS, the move guarantees that state and local governments that opt in for DHS cybersecurity aid will receive prioritized assistance requests, added protections and access to information on vulnerabilities.

In February, Kelly supported the designation in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee.

However, the designation has elicited confusion and opposition among state representatives.

In the letter, McCaskill requested that DHS provide information on how many state and local governments asked for DHS assistance prior to the election, if any state and local governments have asked for assistance since the designation was announced and if states and localities will have to foot the bill for support provided by DHS.

She also asked what specific tools DHS can provide states and localities, if DHS will require additional resources to fulfill its duties under the designation and if states are legally liable if they choose not to implement recommendations made by DHS.

Additionally, she asked why the designation extends to both physical and electronic infrastructure if DHS is only offering cyber-related protection and if the designation will continue under the Trump administration.

McCaskill also asked for clarification on how DHS determined -- in its report with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released in January -- "that the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying."

McCaskill forwarded the letter to committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) and urged his support in investigating possible interference in the 2016 election.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

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