By Chris Bing

The Department of Homeland Security will not classify election systems as critical infrastructure before the November presidential election, DHS Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity Andy Ozment said at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit on Sept. 13.

“This is not something we’re looking to in the near future. This is a conversation we’re having in the long term with state and local government, who are responsible for voting infrastructure,” said Ozment, a former senior director for cybersecurity on the National Security Council. “We’re focused right now on what we can usefully offer that local and state government will find valuable.”

“From our perspective, it gives us more ability to help,” he said of a critical infrastructure designation. “It does not put DHS in charge.”

“To some degree this question of ‘is it critical infrastructure or not’ is a distraction from the important thing, which is that everybody needs to help each other out,” he added.

A reclassification move — which would enable increased resources to protect political elections from hackers, and give DHS additional authorities — is something officials have discussed, but they are still weighing their options, said Ozment.

In recent months, legal professionals, several lawmakers and a cohort of state government officials have argued that federal agencies have no part to play in an electoral process for which local authorities have always been responsible. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, for example, has strongly objected to any DHS involvement — going so far as to publicly accuse President Barack Obama’s administration of exaggerating the threat of cyber attacks in order to step on local and state governments’ traditional jurisdiction.