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Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Homeland Security readying contingency plan to take over election
The Department of Homeland Security is mulling an option to declare elections a "critical infrastructure" of the United States which would allow them a certain amount of control of the election process.
The plan is short on specifics. But if it is determined that the integrity of the ballot is at risk, theoretically, DHS could go so far as take control of electronic voting machines and the counting process - anything that would be at risk of being hacked.
"We should carefully consider whether our election system, our election process, is critical infrastructure like the financial sector, like the power grid," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said.
"There's a vital national interest in our election process, so I do think we need to consider whether it should be considered by my department and others critical infrastructure," he said at media conference earlier this month hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
DHS has a vital security role in 16 areas of critical infrastructure and they provide a model for what the department and Johnson could have in mind for the election.
DHS describes it this way on their website: "There are 16 critical infrastructure sectors whose assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof."
A White House policy directive adds, "The federal government also has a responsibility to strengthen the security and resilience of its own critical infrastructure, for the continuity of national essential functions, and to organize itself to partner effectively with and add value to the security and resilience efforts of critical infrastructure owners and operators."
At the time, Johnson did not mention specific security issues, but the FBI has since cited one hack and another attempt.
Johnson also said that the big issue at hand is that there isn't a central election system since the states run elections. "There's no one federal election system. There are some 9,000 jurisdictions involved in the election process," Johnson said.
A federal takeover of elections presents an enormous challenge and one big roadblock; it's unconstitutional. Of course, that's actually a small matter for the Obama administration which views the constitution as something to be gotten around, not followed.
Even if they could justify the assimilation of the election process because of national security, the bureaucratic nightmare of guarding and regulating not just the 9,000 electoral jurisdictions, but also the more than 300,000 precincts - any one of which could be a gateway for hackers - is almost certainly physically impossible.
One possible solution would be to go low tech - few electronic machines, no internet, hand counting of ballots, etc. It would draw out the reporting of results but that's a small price to pay to maintain the integrity of the vote.
I know the conspiracy mongers will have a field day with this - an inevitable result of no one trusting the government to get it right. But by necessity, states will still have a great deal of control over the process, leaving DHS with a reduced role - something little more than an advisory capacity.
The best solution would be for DHS to keep their hands off the process entirely, but come up with a plan to electronically safeguard the election that states can implement. There's still time to prepare for a cyber attack on the elections, but we've got to get started today to make it happen.