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US Calls Election Facilities Critical, Ups Cybersecurity


FILE - Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson addresses an audience during a forum at John F. Kennedy School of Government on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 21, 2016.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Friday designated U.S. election infrastructure as critical, widening the options the government has to protect voting machines from cyberattacks.

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.

Voter registration systems targeted

Also Friday, U.S. officials determined hackers targeted more than 20 states' voter registration systems during the election, but there was no evidence tallies were altered when ballots were cast November 8.

Elevating election systems to critical infrastructure puts it on par with other sectors eligible to receive prioritized cybersecurity assistance from DHS, including communication and transportation systems, the banking industry and the energy grid.

Election infrastructure includes polling places, centralized vote tabulations locations, storage facilities and voter registration databases and voting machines, Johnson said.

Many local officials oppose it

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.”

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