Last Friday, the same day three of the top spy agencies in the U.S. released a summary of an investigation into Russia’s role in cyberattacks before the election, the Department of Homeland Security made a move that attracted less attention: It classified the elections process as “critical infrastructure,” putting it in a highly protected category alongside other vital elements of the country’s basic operations, like dams and the electrical grid.
The classification will institutionalize the federal government’s role in helping state and local organizations secure the country’s elections, and makes it easier for DHS to offer them resources and intelligence information to that end. But tucked a few paragraphs into the official announcement was another key reason for the change: “The designation makes clear both domestically and internationally that election infrastructure enjoys all the benefits and protections of critical infrastructure that the U.S. government has to offer.”
Those “benefits and protections” might have something to do with keeping elections off-limits for foreign tampering. “One of the critical norms that we have garnered international support for is that no nation-state will attack another country’s critical infrastructure in peacetime,” said Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s homeland-security adviser, at an event at the Aspen Institute on Friday. “Particularly with what we’ve seen over the last several months, we want to be clear that our electoral process is part of that infrastructure that we condemn—hopefully on a bipartisan basis—any foreign intervention into.”