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As DHS extends reach into county elections offices, Republicans urge continued local control

"It's important to support state and local election officials as we work to secure our elections, including in the cyber space," said Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wisc.), chairman of House Administration Committee.

Published: March 14, 2023 7:53pm

Updated: March 15, 2023 11:03pm

As the federal government extends its reach into county elections offices by funding cybersecurity services through the Department of Homeland Security, Republicans, state and local officials are arguing that election administration should stay local.

County elections offices across the U.S. are receiving ambiguous "cybersecurity services" free of charge from the nonprofit Center for Internet Security (CIS), which has played a key role in flagging purported election "misinformation" for Big Tech censorship and collaborates with other left-wing nonprofits and the Democrat-connected cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike.

The cybersecurity services from CIS are free to counties because they are funded by DHS.

"Pursuant to direction from Congress," DHS "has a cooperative agreement with the Center for Internet Security to provide cybersecurity services to state, local, tribal and territorial governments," the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) previously told Just the News.

Enacted in June 2022, the bipartisan State and Local Government Cybersecurity Act of 2021 requires DHS to coordinate on cybersecurity with the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC), which is part of CIS.

CIS has provided "cybersecurity services" and "Endpoint Detection & Response services" to county election offices through MS-ISAC and Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing & Analysis Center (EI-ISAC), according to memorandums of agreement between counties and CIS.

EI-ISAC functioned as CIS' key node in the referral chain routing alleged election "misinformation" to Big Tech censors during the 2020 and 2022 elections.

"EI-ISAC served as a singular conduit for election officials to report false or misleading information to platforms," according to a 2020 election after-action report by the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a private consortium that played a major role in censoring social media content during the 2020 election.

"By serving as a one-stop reporting interface, the EI-ISAC allowed election officials to focus on detecting and countering election misinformation while CIS and its partners reported content to the proper social media platforms," the report continued.

The $1.12 billion dollar DHS and Federal Emergency Management Agency Homeland Security Grant Program lists "Election Security" as a national priority, citing as authority the designation of infrastructure used to administer national elections as critical infrastructure under the Obama DHS.

Grant recipients, such as state and local governments, are required to spend at least 3% of funds received on "enhancing election security."

"It's important to support state and local election officials as we work to secure our elections, including in the cyber space," Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wisc.), chairman of the House Administration Committee, told Just the News on Tuesday. "However, these efforts should be administered by the nonpartisan Election Assistance Commission, an independent agency, not Biden's DHS.

"We must also review how states have utilized the nearly $1 billion in federal election grant funds over the past five years before doling any out more taxpayer dollars. As I've communicated with county elections officials who are doing incredible work to administer elections, many have said what they need most is for the federal government [to get] out of their way."

Steil was part of a hearing on Friday held by House Subcommittee on Elections Chair Laurel Lee (R-Fla.) highlighting examples of successful election administration in 2022 in states including Florida, Louisiana, and Ohio. 

"The Constitution tells us that states — not the federal government — have the primary authority and responsibility to set election laws and to administer federal elections," Lee emphasized.

In testimony at the hearing, the supervisor of elections in Florida's Seminole County, Chris Anderson, explained how state and county election officials worked together to strengthen the cybersecurity infrastructure of the counties through a program called the Joint Election Security Initiative.

"[A]ll 67 counties were working with the [Florida] Department of State in strengthening their cybersecurity infrastructure," Anderson said, describing the program that was spearheaded by Lee when she was the Florida Secretary of State. "We had cyber navigators from the Department of State come and meet with our IT professionals, they scanned our networks, they gave us best practices, and I'm very happy to report that in Seminole County, we passed with flying colors."

Anderson added that the Florida Department of State's cyber navigators covered different geographical areas, which allowed counties to reach out to them for cybersecurity assistance. He noted that this was especially beneficial to rural counties that have smaller budgets and wouldn't usually be able to cover the costs of such services.