DHS chief calls on officials in all 50 states to have ‘verifiable’ ballots by 2020 election

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Wednesday called on election officials in all 50 states to ensure that ballots used during the 2020 presidential election are able to be audited.

Nielsen told a group of reporters touring the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) in Arlington, Va., that she wants “all state and local election officials to make certain that by the 2020 presidential election, every American votes on a verifiable and auditable ballot.”

“Our systems must be resilient. We must be able to demonstrate that the votes count and that they are counted correctly,” she added.


Nielsen listed three ways states could audit their ballots: By using paper ballots, machines that print out an individual’s vote so it can be verified that the machine correctly tabulated their choice, or using machines that send a duplication transmission when someone votes. 

The DHS chief indicated that she will not direct states on what method to use, but said states should maintain a system of verifiable ballots in order to ensure trust in the election system.

“I don’t know if we are interested in mandating how, I am just interesting in making sure each state can explain to their citizens what they have done to verify the vote count,” she said.

The DHS chief emphasized that the Trump administration is “working with election officials in all 50 states,” having “frequent and frank” dialogue with election officials and pushing to identify and help manage risks. 

The remarks about verifying ballots comes amid heightened fears of foreign adversaries seeking to interfere in future U.S. elections, including the November midterms.

Nielsen maintained that the U.S. is “better positioned” to combat cyber threats than at any previous point, but said “more can and should be done.”

Christopher Krebs, who serves as the head of DHS’s cyber office known as National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), noted that there is an “ongoing Russian effort to sow discord and divisiveness.”

The remarks from the top DHS officials comes just days after several technology companies announced malicious cyber activity by foreign adversaries.

Microsoft announced earlier this week that it had shut down six websites created by a hacking group known as “Fancy Bear,” which has been linked to Russia’s intelligence agency. The hackers targeted two conservative think tanks that have been critical of the Kremlin, in addition to targeting the U.S. Senate, though Microsoft said the attacks were not specific to a “particular” office or senator.

Fancy Bear is an active, powerful hacking group whose attacks have included the successful hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016.

Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, indicted a dozen Russian intelligence officials last month for their involvement in the DNC hack.

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