The Senate Intelligence Committee rolled out a list of recommendations for federal, state and local officials to adhere to, to fortify election systems against foreign interference. The Committee made clear that no legislation would follow from the recommendations, as the Committee lacks jurisdiction, and that laws governing election systems fall under the purview of the Senate Rules Committee.
The recommendations were suggestions that the Committee came up with in the course of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The Committee has been investigating the 2016 election for over a year.
The recommendations call on federal, state and local officials to improve intelligence-sharing, as well as election-system security. It calls on the federal government to provide grants for states to hire additional cyber-security staff, update software and institute audits on cyber-security.
It stressed that the grants and initiatives were voluntary, and that the federal government should not encroach on states’ authorities in conducting their elections. Instead, the Committee said, the federal government should play a supporting role and grant states the resources and information they need to make sure their elections are free of interference.
“States should remain firmly in the lead on running elections, and the Federal government should ensure they receive the necessary resources and information,” the Committee said.
It also recommended the federal government create “effective deterrence” when it comes to interference. “The U.S. Government should clearly communicate to adversaries that an attack on our election infrastructure is a hostile act, and we will respond accordingly,” it said.
Committee members left little doubt as to where they stood in terms of attribution of election meddling in 2016 and offered new information as to the effectiveness of those efforts.
“Let me say this with a great deal of confidence, it is clear the Russian government was looking for the vulnerabilities in our election system and highlighted some of the key gaps,” Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina said. “Russia attempted to penetrate twenty-one states. We know they were successful in penetrating at least one voter database.”
“Russia was trying to undermine the confidence of our election system. We’re here to express concern but also confidence in our state and local governments,” he added.
Ranking Member Mark Warner of Virginia pointed out shortcomings in officials involved in the 2016 election at all levels of government. “One of the consensuses that we all came up with was we were all disappointed that states, the federal government and the Department of Homeland Security was not more on their game in advance of the 2016 elections,” he said.
“One of the most frustrating things was that in the aftermath of this information coming out is that it actually took the Department of Homeland Security nearly nine months to notify top election officials that their state systems had been messed with,” he added.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been concerned that the Trump administration has not done enough to address the issue of interference ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee several weeks ago Adm. Michael Rogers, Director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command indicated that he hadn’t received any specific instructions by the Trump administration to bolster U.S. cyber defenses ahead of this year’s elections.
“I haven’t been granted any additional authorities,” he said.