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Homeland Security: Voting systems should be fortified as ‘critical infrastructure’ to guard against hacks

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A sign points the way toward the voting booths as voting commences in North Carolina's U.S. presidential primary election at Sharon Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. on March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane/File Photo

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Wednesday that he has raised the possibility of having electronic voting machines declared a “critical infrastructure” sector in order to guard against a possible cyber-attack during the November election, the New York Times reported.

“There are various different points in the process that we have to be concerned about, so this is something that we are very focused on right at the moment,” he said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

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The department currently uses the designation to cover 16 sectors — including dams, financial services, and transportation systems, among others — deemed “so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.”

Johnson said President Barack Obama’s administration was considering how to institute voter protections in the 9,000 jurisdictions around the country, citing the “vital national interest” in the electoral process. The secretary said he has already contacted state and local officials to discuss “best practices” to fight off hacking attempts.

“There are various different points in the process that we have to be concerned about, so this is something that we are very focused on right at the moment,” he said.

A spokesperson for the National Association of Secretaries of State, Kay Stimson, told USA Today that it’s hard for the country’s voting system to be attacked online because each state governs its own process, while 60 percent of the states hold audits after every election.

“It’s also important to point out that our election systems are not Internet-based systems,” said Stimson. “They are closed systems.”

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