Last minute power grab has been the mode of operation for the outgoing President Obama’s administration, with 13 days left in his Presidency, the Department of Homeland Security unleashed a statement that declared the state election systems as critical infrastructure. Jeh Johnson, the DHS Secretary made a statement in which he defines the election infrastructure as constituting of polling places, voting machines, voting registration databases, and centralized vote tabulations locations.
The DHS announced that it had determined that election infrastructure in the country ought to be designed as a subsector of the existing Government Facilities critical infrastructure sector. The DHS also added that due to the vital role that elections play, it’s only right that certain assets and systems of elections meet the definition of critical infrastructure.
The DHS also pointed out that it had reached the determination so that the election infrastructure will formally be a priority for cybersecurity assistance and the protections that the Department of Homeland Security provides to a range of private and public sector entities. The DHS made it clear that the election infrastructure referred to the polling places, storage facilities, locations for centralized vote tabulations that are used to support the election process and also the information and communications technology to include voter registration databases, machines for voting, and other systems that manage the election process and report and display results on behalf of local and state governments. This announcement was made just hours after the intelligence community declassified the Russian Hacking propaganda.
The statement made by Johnson also emphasized that he went ahead with the decision despite the opposition which came from the local and state election officials. Adding that his staff consulted many state and local election officials and it was evident that many of them opposed the designation. However, he emphasized that the designation does not mean federal takeover, oversight, regulation, or intrusion with the country's election. Adding that the designation does nothing to change the roles discharged by the local and state governments while they run the elections.
Johnson also pointed out that the designation of election infrastructure as critical infrastructure subsector did not imply that the election infrastructure becomes a priority within the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. Adding that it was meant to enable the Department to prioritize the cybersecurity assistance to local and state election officials who request it.
This decision has been met with loads of critics especially from Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp who told Politico that the whole scheme was nothing more than an attempt to "subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security."
Kemp also held an interview with the site Nextgov in which he warned that: The question remains whether the federal government will subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security."
Kemp told POLITICO he sees a “clear motivation from this White House” to expand federal control, citing Obama’s health care law, the Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation and the increased role of the Education Department in local schools.
Some election officials have pointed out that this move by the Obama administration is nothing the first stage of a more intrusive plan that Obama intends to unleash. “I think it’s kind of the nose under the tent,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat. “What I think a lot of folks get concerned about [is] when the federal government says, ‘Well, look, we’re not really interested in doing that, but we just want to give you this,’ and then all of a sudden this leads to something else.”