(Adds House committee vote to eliminate Election Assistance
By Dustin Volz
WASHINGTON Feb 7 U.S. Homeland Security
Secretary John Kelly on Tuesday said he backed a decision in the
Obama administration's final days to designate elections systems
as critical infrastructure in order to boost their cyber
defenses, after the government concluded Russian hackers tried
to influence the 2016 presidential race.
Some conservative states, such as Georgia, had expressed
concerns that the Obama administration move amounted to a
federal takeover of elections traditionally run by state and
The designation means voting machines, voter registration
systems, polling places and other assets important to holding
elections are eligible for priority cyber-security assistance
from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
"I believe we should help all of the states ... to make sure
that their systems are protected in future elections," Kelly
told the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Homeland
Security in response to a question from Democratic U.S.
Representative Cedric Richmond.
"I would argue that, yes, we should keep that in place."
Last month, two weeks before then-President Barack Obama, a
Democrat, left office, DHS said it was designating state
election systems part of the nation's critical infrastructure, a
move that broadened the options the federal government has to
protect voting equipment from cyber attacks.
Other sectors considered critical infrastructure include
communication and transportation systems, the banking industry
and the energy grid.
The 2016 presidential campaign was marred by the hacking and
subsequent leaking of Democratic emails that U.S. intelligence
agencies concluded were carried out by Russia in order to help
now-President Donald Trump, a Republican, win.
U.S. officials determined Russian hackers also targeted more
than 20 states' voter registration systems during the election
but that there was no evidence that tallies were altered when
ballots were cast on Nov. 8.
Some Republican-controlled states had argued against the
change, saying elections in the United States have always been
carried out by state and local officials and that the federal
government should not play a direct role in them.
Separately on Tuesday, Republicans on the House
Administration Committee voted to eliminate the federal Election
Assistance Commission, which is charged with ensuring that
voting machines meet security standards. The commission was
itself penetrated by a Russian-speaking hacker last year after
the Nov. 8 U.S. elections, according to security firm Recorded
The full House and the U.S. Senate would need to pass the
legislation in order for it to become law.
(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)