Officials say DHS rejected plan to shield election officials from harassment: report
The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) turned down a multimillion-dollar proposal by a federally funded nonprofit to protect election officials from harassment ahead of November’s midterms, CNN reported on Tuesday.
Citing multiple people familiar with the matter, the outlet reported the proposal would track foreign influence activity and increase resources for reporting misinformation and disinformation surrounding the midterm elections, but officials raised concerns about the initiative being seen as partisan.
DHS shut down its Disinformation Governance Board in May after receiving condemnations from Republicans, some of whom compared the effort to the dystopian novel “1984.”
“DHS got very spooked after the failed rollout of the Disinformation Governance Board, even though the message [from administration officials] was clear that we can’t back down, we can’t be bullied by the right,” a senior U.S. official told CNN, which reported that the proposal originated this spring from the Center for Internet Security, a nonprofit CISA partially funds.
Kim Wyman, CISA’s senior election security lead, did not acknowledge the proposal directly when reached for comment but said the agency is committed to protecting against election threats.
“Over the past several years, we have learned that the most impactful way of combatting disinformation is to empower local election officials as the trusted voices within their communities to help voters get the accurate information they need to exercise their right to vote,” said Wyman.
The agency has published a number of resources on its website to assist state and local election officials in combating election misinformation.
“We are working side-by-side with these election officials to support these efforts,” Wyman continued. “We have not wavered in our mission to help the American people better understand the threat of foreign influence campaigns, and we will continue to publish resources to help the public identify foreign malicious activity.”
The Hill has reached out to DHS and the Center for Internet Security for comment.
CNN also reported the agency’s decision not to adopt the proposal drew frustration from at least two election officials.
Multiple election officials have reported an increase in threats to themselves and their offices in recent months. The Senate Judiciary Committee last month held a hearing on the threats, with testimony from CISA and DHS officials.
The same month, Florida and Colorado election officials wrote a letter to CISA and DHS leaders asking them to approve part of the plan to combat doxing, a scheme in which individuals publicly expose others’ personal information, according to CNN.
CISA in recent years has taken a more active role in examining election security. The agency’s director, Jen Easterly, told lawmakers in April that election security is a top priority for CISA ahead of the midterms.
“We are here to help and make sure that all state and local election directors have the resources that they need to ensure the integrity of their election security,” Easterly said at the hearing.
Updated: 9:43 p.m.