WASHINGTON, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said on Tuesday he would not seek to reverse a decision made in the Obama administration’s final days to designate U.S. election systems as critical infrastructure, despite concerns from some conservative states that the change amounted to a federal takeover.
“I believe we should help all of the states ... to make sure that their systems are protected in future elections,” Kelly told a congressional panel in response to a question from Democratic U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond.
“I would argue that, yes, we should keep that in place.”
In January, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it had determined state election systems should be considered critical infrastructure by the federal government. The decision followed a 2016 presidential campaign marred by cyber attacks that U.S. intelligence agencies concluded were carried out by Russia in order to help now-President Donald Trump win.
U.S. officials determined hackers 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.
Designation as critical infrastructure makes voting machines and related equipment - such as polling places, voter registration databases and vote storage facilities - eligible to receive prioritized cyber security assistance from DHS.
Other sectors considered critical infrastructure include communication and transportation systems, the banking industry and the energy grid.
Some Republican-controlled states such as Georgia 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. (Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)