US state election officials may never know if Russia hacked their voting systems

ANAHEIM, Calif., Aug 25 (Reuters) - The federal government has not notified U.S. state election officials if their voting systems were targeted by suspected Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential campaign, and the information will likely never be made public, a top state election chief told Reuters.

"You're absolutely never going to learn it, because we don't even know it," Judd Choate, state election director for Colorado and president of the National Association of State Election Directors, said in an interview on Thursday during the group's summer conference.

Nearly 10 months after Republican Donald Trump's upset presidential victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Choate said he had not spoken to a single state election director who had been told by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security if their state was among those attacked.

RELATED: How every state voted in the 2016 election

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How every state voted in the 2016 election
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How every state voted in the 2016 election

Alabama

Donald Trump: 1,318,255 votes

Hillary Clinton: 729,547 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Alaska

Donald Trump: 163,387 votes

Hillary Clinton: 116,454 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Arkansas

Donald Trump: 684,872 votes

Hillary Clinton: 380,494 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Arizona

Donald Trump: 1,252,401 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,161,167 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Connecticut

Donald Trump: 673,315 votes

Hillary Clinton: 897,572 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

California

Donald Trump: 4,483,810 votes

Hillary Clinton: 8,753,788 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Alaska

Donald Trump: 163,387 votes

Hillary Clinton: 116,454 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Colorado

Donald Trump: 1,202,484 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,338,870 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Delaware

Donald Trump: 185,127 votes

Hillary Clinton: 235,603 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Florida

Donald Trump: 4,617,886 votes

Hillary Clinton: 4,504,975 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Georgia

Donald Trump: 2,089,104 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,877,963 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Hawaii

Donald Trump: 128,847 votes

Hillary Clinton: 266,891 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Iowa

Donald Trump: 800,983 votes

Hillary Clinton: 653,669 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Illinois

Donald Trump: 2,146,015 votes

Hillary Clinton: 3,090,729 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Idaho

Donald Trump: 409,055 votes

Hillary Clinton: 189,765 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Indiana

Donald Trump: 1,557,286 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,033,126 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Kansas

Donald Trump: 671,018 votes

Hillary Clinton: 427,005 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Kentucky

Donald Trump: 1,202,971 votes

Hillary Clinton: 628,854 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Louisiana

Donald Trump: 1,178,638 votes

Hillary Clinton: 780,154 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Maine

Donald Trump: 335,543 votes

Hillary Clinton: 357,735 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Massachusetts

Donald Trump: 1,090,893 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,995,196 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Michigan

Donald Trump: 2,279,543 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,268,839 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Minnesota

Donald Trump: 1,323,232 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,367,825 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Mississippi

Donald Trump: 700,714 votes

Hillary Clinton: 485,131 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Missouri

Donald Trump: 1,594,511 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,071,068 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Montana

Donald Trump: 279,240 votes

Hillary Clinton: 177,709 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Nebraska

Donald Trump: 495,961 votes

Hillary Clinton: 284,494 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Nevada

Donald Trump: 512,058 votes

Hillary Clinton: 539,260 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New Hampshire

Donald Trump: 345,790 votes

Hillary Clinton: 348,526 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New Jersey

Donald Trump: 1,601,933 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,148,278 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New Mexico

Donald Trump: 319,667 votes

Hillary Clinton: 385,234 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New York

Donald Trump: 2,819,534 votes

Hillary Clinton: 4,556,124 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

North Dakota

Donald Trump: 216,794 votes

Hillary Clinton: 93,758 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Ohio

Donald Trump: 2,841,005 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,394,164 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Oklahoma

Donald Trump: 949,136 votes

Hillary Clinton: 420,375 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Oregon

Donald Trump: 782,403 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,002,106 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Pennsylvania

Donald Trump: 2,970,733 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,926,441 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Rhode Island

Donald Trump: 180,543 votes

Hillary Clinton: 252,525 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

South Carolina

Donald Trump: 1,155,389 votes

Hillary Clinton: 855,373 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

South Dakota

Donald Trump: 227,721 votes

Hillary Clinton: 117,458 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Tennessee

Donald Trump: 1,522,925 votes

Hillary Clinton: 870,695 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Texas

Donald Trump: 4,685,047 votes

Hillary Clinton: 3,877,865 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Utah

Donald Trump: 515,231 votes

Hillary Clinton: 310,676 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Vermont

Donald Trump: 95,259 votes

Hillary Clinton: 178,573 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Virginia

Donald Trump: 1,769,443 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,981,473 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Washington

Donald Trump: 1,221,747 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,742,718 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

West Virginia

Donald Trump: 489,371 votes

Hillary Clinton: 188,794 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Wisconsin

Donald Trump: 1,405,284 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,382,536 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Wyoming

Donald Trump: 174,419 votes

Hillary Clinton: 55,973 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

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The lack of information-sharing on the election breaches reflects the difficulty state and federal officials have had in working together to protect U.S. voting from cyber threats. All U.S. elections are run by state and local governments, which have varying degrees of technical competence.

DHS told Congress in June that 21 states were targeted during the 2016 presidential race, and that while a small number were breached, there was no evidence any votes were manipulated.

Other reports have said 39 states were targeted. Choate said he had heard both numbers mentioned.

Several lawmakers, including Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, have expressed frustration at DHS' refusal to identify which states had been targeted. Arizona and Illinois confirmed last year that hackers had targeted their voter registration systems.

In a statement, the DHS did not refute that states had not been notified if they were targeted, adding the agency informed the owners or operators of systems potentially victimized "who may not necessarily" be state election officials.

DHS was working with senior state election officials "to determine how best to share this information while protecting the integrity of investigations and the confidentiality of system owners," the agency said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Kremlin orchestrated an operation that included hacking and online propaganda intended to tilt the November election in Trump's favor.

Several congressional committees are investigating and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading a separate probe into the Russia matter, including whether Moscow colluded with the Trump campaign. Russia has denied election meddling and Trump has denied any collusion.

'LEARN FROM THE MISSTEPS'

The four-day conference of election directors was originally supposed to be about issues like voter registration, but took a sharp turn following the election hacking.

"After the 2000 election, we all had to be lawyers," Choate said. "And now after the 2016 election, we all have to be cyber security experts."

DHS representatives at the event fended off questions about whether the federal government would be prepared to mobilize sufficient support for the states in the event of a catastrophic cyber attack near or during the 2018 elections.

"We want to make sure we learn from the missteps that may have happened in 2016 and we want to make sure we continue building on the things we did that were right," Robert Gatlin, a DHS cyber official, said during a panel discussion.

Gatlin said the agency was working with U.S. intelligence agencies to "downgrade" more classified information so it could be shared with the states. Information about cyber attacks is typically guarded by a high classification because it may involve nation-state involvement or contain sensitive sources and methods, he said.

RELATED: A look at early voting during the 2016 election

17 PHOTOS
Early voting underway in some states
See Gallery
Early voting underway in some states
A sign indicating no phones are allowed in ballot booths is displayed as a man casts his ballot during early voting at the San Diego County Elections Office in San Diego, California, U.S., November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
An attendee holds a sign reading 'Nasty Women Vote' during of a campaign event with Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. As the U.S. presidential race heads into its final weekend, Donald Trump is showing strength in Iowa and Ohio pre-Election Day voting, while Clinton's advantage in early balloting looks stronger in North Carolina and Nevada. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A man holds his ballot sleeve as he lines up to vote at an early voting polling centre in Miami, Florida on November 3, 2016. / AFP / RHONA WISE (Photo credit should read RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)
A young boy stretches as he stands next to a woman filling out her ballot during early voting at a polling station inside Truman College on October 31, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. / AFP / Joshua Lott (Photo credit should read JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks past the Early Vote Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, ME - OCTOBER 18: Early voters in Portland. Kaila Moore, left, and Justin Chamberlain, both of Portland, seal their ballots after voting early at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 18: Residents cast ballots for the November 8 election at an early voting site on October 18, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. With three weeks to go until election day, polls show Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton with a lead over GOP rival Donald Trump. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Voters cast ballots as early absentee voting began ahead of the U.S. presidential election in Medina, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
US President Barack Obama votes early at the Cook County Office Building in Chicago, Illinois, October 7, 2016. Obama cast an early ballot on Friday, highlighting a Democratic drive to get voters to the polls even before November 8. During an unannounced visit, Obama stood before a voting machine at the Chicago Board of Elections office, punched in his choice and smirked when asked who he had voted for. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Poll workers look on as US President Barack Obama (C) gestures towards the press as he votes early at the Cook County Office Building in Chicago, Illinois, October 7, 2016. Obama cast an early ballot on Friday, highlighting a Democratic drive to get voters to the polls even before November 8. During an unannounced visit, Obama stood before a voting machine at the Chicago Board of Elections office, punched in his choice and smirked when asked who he had voted for. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A man registers to vote at the Early Vote Center in northeast Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
Joseph and Maria Caruso vote inside the Early Vote Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota after work on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
A bucket of 'I Voted' stickers inside the Early Vote Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 23: Signage at an early voting center on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 23: Minneapolis resident Robin Marty takes a selfie with an 'I Voted' sign after voting early at the Northeast Early Voting Center on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Laika (last name not given) poses for a portrait with his 'I Voted! Did You?' wrist band after voting early at a polling station inside Truman College on October 31, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. / AFP / Joshua Lott (Photo credit should read JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
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Legislation recently approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee would require the director of national intelligence to sponsor top-secret security clearance for eligible election officials in each state, something the National Association of Secretaries of State has advocated.

The bill would also require DHS to submit a report to Congress detailing cyber attacks and attempted cyber attacks by foreign governments on U.S. election infrastructure during the 2016 election.

Choate said communication about cyber threats had improved with federal agencies since the election and the decision by the outgoing Obama administration in January to elevate voting systems to a "critical infrastructure designation."

Prior to the election, some state officials worried that closer oversight of election systems represented a dangerous federal intrusion into local affairs.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Peter Cooney)

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