DHS tells 21 states they were Russia hacking targets before 2016 election

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notified 21 states Friday that Russia attempted to hack their election systems before the 2016 election.

In the majority of the states, the Department of Homeland Security only saw preparations for hacking, like scanning to find potential modes for attack. Voting machines are not connected to the internet and cannot be scanned in this way, but other systems, including those housing voter rolls, can be.

DHS has not released a full list of what states were notified. 

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"[R]ecognizing that state and local officials should be kept informed about cybersecurity risks to election infrastructure, we are working with them to refine our processes for sharing this information while protecting the integrity of investigations and the confidentiality of system owners," DHS Spokesman Scott McConnell said in a written statement to The Hill.

McConnell later added: "As part of our ongoing information sharing efforts, today DHS notified the Secretary of State or another chief election officer in each state of any potential targeting we were aware of in their state leading up to the 2016 election. We will continue to keep this information confidential and defer to each state whether it wishes to make it public or not.”

The Wisconsin Elections Commission, took the DHS up on that offer, announcing that it was one of the states notified by DHS.

Wisconsin officials said their internet-facing systems were among those scanned by Russia but Russia did not hack or in any way impact any of its machines. 

The United States intelligence community believes that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and other political targets in an attempt to influence the election. They do not, however, believe voting machines were hacked or votes were directly altered by Russia. 

In August, Judd Choate, state election director for Colorado and president of the National Association of State Election Directors, expressed frustration that states had not been notified of Russian hacking attempts. At the time, DHS said it was working to address the issue, but that its initial policy was to only notify the group that was attacked — often times a contractor.

Illinois and Arizona announced before the election that voter roles connected to the internet had been hacked by Russia.

Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota and Washington also confirmed to The Hill they had been targeted. Several other states told The Associated Press and Reuters they had been notified they had been targeted. In most cases, they said they did not know until notified Friday by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Elections are organized by states, not the federal government. DHS, however, has declared elections critical infrastructure, giving states a variety of voluntary options for assistance.

Lawmakers are raising questions about why DHS took so long to notify states.

“It's unacceptable that it took almost a year after the election to notify states that their elections systems were targeted, but I'm relieved that DHS has acted upon our numerous requests and is finally informing the top elections officials in all 21 affected states that Russian hackers tried to breach their systems in the run up to the 2016 election," said Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump: Why isn't Senate looking into 'Fake News Networks'? 5 takeaways from Senate Russian meddling presser Trump: 'America is truly a nation in mourning' MORE (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, in a statement.

— Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report.

— This story was last updated at 7:59 p.m.