Homeland security chief issues warning as primary contests get under way amid continued concerns about Russian interference
Some US states lack a verifiable way to audit election results and this represents a “national security concern”, the Trump administration’s homeland security chief warned on Wednesday, as primary contests get under way amid continued concerns about Russian interference in the run-up to November’s midterm US elections.
The Department of Homeland Security is prioritizing election cybersecurity above all other critical infrastructure it protects, such as the nation’s financial, energy and communications systems, the agency chief, Kirstjen Nielsen, told the Senate intelligence committee.
The hearing to examine the administration’s efforts to improve election security came after US intelligence officials repeatedly sounded the alarm that Russia will attempt to meddle in the 2018 contests after doing so during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The hearing was held on the same day that lawmakers were due to unveil a federal spending bill that is expected to include nearly $400m for election security.
Senator Richard Burr, the committee’s Republican chairman, said the need for improvements was urgent but it was unclear if fixes would be in place this year or even by the next presidential election in 2020.
Senators on the panel have criticized both the Trump and Obama administrations for not moving quickly enough to stem the Russian threat. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican, critiqued Nielsen’s opening statement describing efforts the department had already announced.
“I hear no sense of urgency to really get on top of this issue,” Collins said.
Nielsen endorsed paper ballot backups to electronic voting machinery.
New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina have no verifiable paper ballot backup , while eight other states have some electoral districts without paper backups.
Nielsen testified alongside her predecessor, the former homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson, as the two sought to defend their work over the past two years overseeing efforts to steer the agency more toward protecting election systems.
Both said they had “no doubt” that Russian leadership at a very high level was involved in the attempt to interfere in the US election, which US intelligence agencies concluded was done in order to boost Trump’s candidacy.
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