Hosemann decries Homeland Security move

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Zachary Oren Smith, Mississippi Today

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann on Tuesday added his voice to a chorus of electoral officials nationwide criticizing a federal Homeland Security agency decision designating election systems as “critical infrastructure.”

In an interview, Hosemann told Mississippi Today that the “sudden decision” to make the designation was an example of the federal government over-reaching its responsibilities: “Article 1 of the Constitution gives the states the right to run our elections. We didn’t just make this up.”

In announcing the decision on Friday, Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson said the designation would place the electoral infrastructure — such as voting rolls, polling places, election machines — under the watch of his agency on a similar status as the power grid and the internet.

The critical label is given to various sectors of the U.S. economy whose damage could lead to serious problems for U.S. security.

Johnson’s announcement came as U.S. intelligence agencies released an unclassified report concluding that the Russian government initiated a hacking campaign against the U.S. election mechanisms in an effort to aid Republican Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

Hosemann walked Mississippi Today through a catalogue of “mirrored redundancies,” 24/7 network monitoring, and a coming comprehensive encryption of election information employed by his office to ensure that election results are not impacted by outside forces.

Hosemann noted that his office got high marks from the Department of Homeland Security in September when it asked that agency to assess the strength of Mississippi’s election management system data.

“We asked them to review our protocols, which they did. They said we were to be commended for our state’s work in protecting this information,” he said.

Hoseman said he has strong reservations about nationalizing the store of voter information in Washington.

“I want Mississippi’s information to stay in Mississippi,” said the Republican who has served as Secretary of State since 2008. “And I want to protect ourselves to the best of our ability and not find ourselves in the position that someone in a foreign government hacked into a system in Washington and got the 1.8 million people (from Mississippi) financial information or information that could get their financial information.”

“I don’t want to send all of Mississippi’s information to one source,” Hoseman said. “If you think that’s a good idea, just check with the Democratic Party.”

The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), the professional organization of state elections officials, on Monday issued a statement, “U.S. Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson’s announcement of a critical infrastructure classification for election systems is legally and historically unprecedented. No credible evidence of hacking, including attempted hacking of voting machines or vote counting, was ever presented or discovered in any state.”

“State an local autonomy over elections is our greatest asset against malicious cyberattacks and manipulation,” the statement continued.” Our decentralized, low-connectivity electoral process is inherently designed to withstand such threats.”

In announcing the designation, Johnson insisted that “This designation does nothing to change the role state and local governments have in administering and running elections.”

In February, Hosemann will be attending a National Association of Secretaries of State convention.

“This will be a leading topic (at NASS),” Hosemann said. “And I assume that someone from Homeland Security will be there to justify their what they’re doing and where they are going with it.”

Concerns about the Homeland Security designation arose even before the election. In a statement in September, Commissioner Christy McCormick of the federal Election Assistance Commission expressed suspicion of such a move.

“If DHS were truly only concerned with the security of these elections, they would simply provide these resources without the declaration of election systems as critical infrastructure or requiring states to request help before information or resources will be shared,” McCormick said. “I am unconvinced that a declaration of critical infrastructure status is necessary for DHS to help further security efforts.”

McCormick said that such decision could shake up the country’s long held, constitutionally mandated decentralized  election organization.

“Election officials across this country have been ensuring the cyber security of their jurisdictions and the elections in them since we first started using electronic tools in our elections,” McCormick said. “Let’s let our local and state election officials do their job and run the elections. They have always done an excellent job, and I am confident that our elections are secure and in good hands when they are running them.”

Hoseman echoed those sentiments: “We have taken great strides here. I want to protect Mississippians information and voting ability. I think it is a state function. There was no compromise in the election in Mississippi or, as far as I can tell, anywhere else.”

Added Hosemann, “I have a healthy skepticism of, ‘We’re with the federal government and I’m here to help you.’ “