(Adds quotes from U.S. Department of Homeland Security head)
By Dustin Volz
WASHINGTON Jan 6 The U.S. Department of
Homeland Security on Friday designated U.S. election
infrastructure as critical, widening the options the government
has to protect voting machines from cyber attacks.
The decision, announced in a statement by DHS Secretary Jeh
Johnson, followed a 2016 presidential campaign marred by
concerns that hackers could disrupt the election.
Also on Friday, U.S. intelligence agencies released a report
accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a
campaign to hack Democratic Party computers in an effort to help
Republican Donald Trump win the U.S. presidency.
U.S. officials determined hackers targeted more than 20
states' voter registration systems during the election but that
there was no evidence tallies were altered when ballots were
cast on Nov. 8.
Elevating election systems to critical infrastructure puts
it on par with other sectors eligible to receive prioritized
cyber security assistance from DHS, including communication and
transportation systems, the banking industry and the energy
Election infrastructure includes polling places, centralized
vote tabulations locations, storage facilities and voter
registration databases and voting machines, Johnson said.
Johnson said he and his staff had consulted with state and
local election officials and that he was "aware that many of
them are opposed to this designation." Some conservative states
such as Georgia objected when the idea was floated during the
presidential campaign, claiming elections have historically been
overseen by local officials.
The classification was not "a federal takeover, regulation,
oversight or intrusion concerning elections in this country,"
Johnson said in a statement. "This designation does nothing to
change the role state and local governments have in
administering and running elections."
(Reporting by Eric Beech and Dustin Volz; Editing by Eric Walsh
and Grant McCool)