centralized vote tabulations locations used to support the election process

centralized vote tabulations locations used to support the election process, and information and communications technology to include voter registration databases, voting machines, and other systems to manage the election process.” (Johnson, 2017) Election infrastructure clearly plays an important role in the continuity of a safe a secure United States. When analyzing the definition and current examples of critical infrastructure, election infrastructure should be considered a U.S. critical infrastructure subsector.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines Critical Infrastructure (DI) as something that “provides the essential services that underpin American Society…and the communication systems we rely on.” (Department of Homeland Security, 2017) DHS also supports a definition by the USA PATRIOT Act which adds “compose the asset systems, and networks whether physical or virtual, 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.” (USA PATRIOT Act, 42 U.S. Code § 5195c, 2001) Not only do our current elections infrastructure fit these definitions, but it also shadows other current subsectors. Some subsectors designated by the DHS include soft targets like gaming, lodging and retail. Each of these subsectors have a niche in this definition. For example, casinos under the gaming subsector would have a substantial effect on the economy. Elections infrastructure includes asset systems, networks and is vital to securing the continuity of democracy, safeguarding American principles. It meets the definition given by the DHS of CI and shows congruency to current subsector requirements.
Being designated a U.S. critical infrastructure subsector would push any election facilities or systems higher on a list of national priority. Secretary Jeh Johnson in a statement on the Designation of Election Infrastructure as a Critical Infrastructure Subsector on January 6, 2017, states that under designation, election infrastructure will enjoy “all benefits and protections of critical infrastructure that the U.S. government has to offer. (Johnson, 2017) As an official part of the CI, election resources would be protected and prioritized under the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. The Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council (CIPAC) would be able to “provide election officials access to a broad range of relevant expertise and participation in sensitive planning conversations.” (Congressional Research Services, 2018) With more prioritization, public confidence on election campaigns and processes will increase.
Public confidence, with anything receiving government backing, is extremely important to unify the nation and spread citizen morale. Nebraska state Sen. John Murante speaks on this, “the peaceful transfer of power becomes much less secure if people don’t have confidence in the system.” (Bennett, 2016) Conversations surrounding unsteadiness of the United States political campaigns, voting systems and election processes have circulated through voters since speculations of meddling in the 2016 elections. This has shot down that national public confidence, causing rifts and unsettling of other government releases. Securing the election process, federally and prioritizing it in the way that Critical Infrastructure is, would deter any furthering of civil skepticism or distrust.
Considering all threats against the election process are real, possible and probable, the ability to diffuse any of these threats becomes a huge challenge at the local level, more specifically, threats to election communications and cyber security extortions. Under federal prioritization as a CI sector, protection of communication and cyber implications by use of government resources, becomes easier. The government would have the ability to “have full and frank discussions with key stakeholders regarding sensitive information.” (Johnson, 2017) Increasing communications between election processes, as a Critical Infrastructure subsector, subjects any information collected on security and vulnerabilities to be considered as Protected Critical Infrastructure Information (PCII) (U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 2017). This information is then protected to omit any vulnerabilities, specifically to public exposure of sensitive information, which happens to be a major issue in recent election systems. Being a part of PCII would protect sensitive material from being misinterpreted by an untrained eye and limits that potential for miscommunication. Again, improving national morale. In protecting threats to cybersecurity, the National Cyber Security and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) has a federal focus to share CI cyber security safely. (Congressional Research Service, 2018) This resource can be of use with any election communications system once designated as a CI subsector, furthering election security as a whole under federal support.
Although designating elections infrastructure as a CI subsector would help election systems financially, boost national morale, secure communications and against cyber threats, some have raised concerns on its designation with fears that the federal government would be encroaching on state rights and that one collaborative approach to voting would make it vulnerable. States want the right to govern as they see fit, this includes their ballots and the use of their public facilities however in a statement by Secretary Jeh Johnson this assumption is cleared up, “This designation does nothing to change the role state and local governments have in administering and running elections.” (Johnson, 2017) States and local governments will not lose influence over their election systems, but make use of this increase in federal priority and protection of state election infrastructure including anything that helps them administer their own elections, voter registration etc. The other concern rationalizing why state and local lawmakers haven’t jumped at the designation idea is because states should have the ability to improve their own cyber security instead of leaning on the government for regulation in assistance however, as mentioned in the paragraphs above, these federal tools such as the NCCIC or CIPAC, are meant to improve communication and aid state officials in planning and security needs. Congress, designating election infrastructure as a subsector, only aims to support current election infrastructure to better the voting apparatus and election processes, not encroach on state prerogatives and stage a federal takeover with a plethora of oversight.
Maintaining elections under the DHS opens the opportunity to provide federal funds to states so that they can further secure their polls and upgrade their equipment to be better equipped against attacks. Putting elections under a National Special Security Event (NSSE) is one way to take control if the elections go south in any way. A NSSE could be designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security in the assumption that a future election is subject to criminal or terroristic activity. If proper suspicion of threats, the Secret Service could implement an operational security plan across certain venues. Also, councils can be put in place to support election infrastructure and help with new planning techniques and market national trust. The election infrastructures sector specific agency will establish these councils and be able to represent not only federal officials, but “state and local government, election vendors and other stakeholders impacted by the critical infrastructure designation.” (U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 2017)
The components of elections infrastructure are endless. They include masses of campaigns, parties, organized events, registration databases, lobbyists and law firms. Not only does this sheer amount of structure require attention in organizations, but meets requirements defined by the DHS. Deputy Director of the FBI, David Bowdich, in a keynote address at the Citadel2018 Cybersecurity and Intelligence Conference, outlines the FBI’s current and most “persistent and emerging threats.” The three include, foreign influence on election integrity, counter intel from China, Russia, Iran, and DPRK to expand their foreign investment, and cybersecurity. With the digital age evolving and growing, new implications on cyber security and communications have threatened secure election processes. Not only does the widened use and aid of federal resources benefit the states in their approach to upgrading election infrastructure, but also can be a step forward to mitigating all three of Bowdich’s outlined threats.