Election cybersecurity should be priority for new DHS secretary, senators say

Sen. James Lankford. (James Lankford / Flickr)

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Sens. Amy Klobuchar and James Lankford published a letter on Tuesday asking newly confirmed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to make election cybersecurity a priority for her tenure, citing concerns about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

The senators say there must be more coordination between state and federal agencies to protect elections, which are run by the states, from cyberattacks.

“Election security is national security, and our election systems have become a target for foreign adversaries,” Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Lankford, R-Okla., wrote.

The Department of Homeland Security in January designated election systems as “critical infrastructure.” Klobuchar and Lankford praised that designation but said that more must be done. They called for improved information sharing on the state and federal levels. Security clearances for state election officials, which would allow them to review classified materials about cyberthreats, should be expedited, the senators said.

The senators also said the federal government should “provide states with resources, best practices and manpower to help combat attacks and update voting technology.” The letter did not go into more detail on how such coordination should be carried out.

“State and local election officials are on the front lines of our democratic process. It is wrong to leave them defenseless against sophisticated cyber hackers backed by the Kremlin and other adversaries,” the senators wrote.

The letter is the latest in a trend of calls from lawmakers for the federal government to be more involved in election cybersecurity. Earlier this month, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., published a letter asking White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster to take specific steps to increase coordination between the federal government and states on election cybersecurity. In October, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., introduced legislation to facilitate the security clearance process for state officials.

The offices of Klobuchar and Lankford did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Amy Klobuchar, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), election security, James Lankford, Kirstjen Nielsen, Martin Heinrich, Ron Wyden, Susan Collins
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