EAC commissioner scathes DHS for decision to designate election systems “critical infrastructure”

U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) Commissioner Christy McCormick issued a scathing statement Saturday denouncing the Department of Homeland Security’s Friday-night designation of state and local election systems as “critical infrastructure.”

 

McCormick says DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s unilateral decision “appears to be purely political” and “blindsided” state election officials and EAC Commissioners.

 

McCormick raises a number of concerns about the substance of DHS’ action: the scope and effect of the designation isn’t known; it politicizes elections and creates a layer of non-transparency and unnecessary federal bureaucracy; the “Russian hacking” justification is thin at best; and the designation opens States to legal, financial and privacy liabilities.

 

But the sharpest criticism is aimed at DHS’ process. McCormick calls it “disingenuous, at best,” which helps explain the high level of mistrust the agency’s action has engendered:

This designation blindsided election officials, who were not provided an adequate opportunity to engage in the decision-making process. While DHS claimed that it would publish notice of the consideration of the designation in the Federal Register and provide a comment period, it did not do so. Additionally, DHS set up an “Election Infrastructure Cybersecurity Working Group,” which included some of the Secretaries of State, to participate in the process, but it effectively never utilized that group. It is obvious to me that Secretary Johnson discarded and dismissed the opinions and concerns of the Secretaries and of the EAC Commissioners, the very people who actually have deep professional experience in conducting and administering elections in this Country, before making this decision.

 

DHS officials represent that they are speaking for the Federal Government, but this Federal agency, the sole mission of which is to assist the States and local election officials in the administration of elections, and which sets the national guidelines for voting systems and tests and certifies those systems, and is a clearinghouse for the best practices in election administration, speaks for itself, and it does not agree with this designation. While this statement is not on behalf of the Commission or my fellow Commissioners, I can say that all of the EAC Commissioners have publicly stated they are not in favor of this designation and had advised Secretary Johnson and his subordinates that he should not move forward with it.

 

Moreover, we have often been dismayed and confused over either the lack of or conflicting information that has been provided to us. There have been occasions when we have spoken to or been briefed by DHS officials and sometimes even less than an hour later seen different or additional information provided by or leaked to the media by DHS officials. Numerous times after our discussions with DHS and/or other members of the USIC we have been left shaking our heads and unable to reconcile the pieces of information that they have given to us.

 

One must question the end game of this effort, especially when the touted benefits of this designation have already been offered and provided to elections officials throughout the past four months. Our states and territories have Constitutional authority to conduct elections, NOT the Federal Government. Elections officials have been aware of and have been dealing with cyber security and physical security of election infrastructure for many, many years and do an excellent job of it. This designation appears to be purely political, especially given that it was made with two weeks before the change in administrations. Elections officials asked for more time, conversation, and discussion and a thorough understanding of the scope and benefits of the critical infrastructure designation. That request was flat out denied by the unilateral action of Secretary Johnson.