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What do states need to secure upcoming elections?

The country’s top intelligence and national security officials gave stark warnings Thursday on Russia's ongoing efforts to meddle in November’s elections. Agency heads acknowledged the threat, while touting the Trump administration’s stepped-up election security initiatives. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla tells Judy Woodruff that states need more resources to stay ahead of the threat.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first: The country's top intelligence and national security officials gave stark warnings today on Russia's ongoing efforts to meddle in this November's elections.

    In a rare joint appearance from the White House Briefing Room, the Trump administration agency heads acknowledged the threat, while touting their stepped-up election security initiatives.

  • Dan Coats:

    The intelligence community continues to be concerned about the threats of upcoming U.S. elections.

  • Christopher Wray:

    Make no mistake, the scope of this foreign influence threat is broad and deep.

  • Gen. Paul Nakasone:

    We're not going to accept meddling in the elections. And it's very unambiguous.

  • Kirstjen Nielsen:

    I am pleased to inform you that, to date, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and over 900 local governments have partnered with DHS in order to bolster the resilience of the nation's election infrastructure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what does the administration's announcement means for the states?

    California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is a Democrat, and he oversees elections there.

    Mr. Padilla, thank you very much for joining us.

    Before I asked you about what the Trump administration officials had to say today, tell us, from your perspective, are you seeing interference already at this point in California's elections and discussions about election in the politics of your state?

  • Alex Padilla:

    Look if you look back from 2016 to today and going forward, are there folks trying to find the vulnerabilities in our systems to meddle with our elections? Absolutely.

    We see that sort of scanning activity on a daily basis. That's nothing new. But that's very different than whether systems are actually compromised or hacked or breached specifically.

    And so it's just a reminder. The Russian — indictment from a couple of weeks ago was another reminder. And today's press conference is reminder that the threats keep coming. The lights are blinking, as our intelligence leaders have said.

    And so our defenses and security measures need to continue to increase in sophistication as well. And we need more resources to stay ahead of the threats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what did you make of what administration and agency officials had to say today? Were you reassured by their message?

  • Alex Padilla:

    Look, I appreciate what they had to say. But I can't help but call out the obvious here.

    Number one, this is agency leaders. It's still not the commander in chief unequivocally saying the Russians meddled with the 2016 elections. And that is critically important. And you have got to hold the Russians accountable if you're going to be taken seriously about being a partner in protecting the 2018 elections, the 2020 elections and beyond.

    Number two, none of what they announced today, what they're doing in partnership with state and local governments, is anything new. They have been doing this, rightfully so, since the end of the Obama administration. So it does need to continue.

    But I think state secretaries of state have been cleared in the following. Number one, we need the Trump administration to hold the Russians accountable. Number two, we need ongoing investments in the upgrade and modernization of our election infrastructure. A once-in-15-year investment in election security doesn't cut it.

    And, number three, the White House has yet to name an election security coordinator, a qualified, well-respected election security coordinator. That alone speaks volumes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, when they say they are taking this seriously, that this an all-out effort — we heard the homeland security secretary. They're working closely with all 50 states, the District of Columbia, hundreds of local governments.

    You're saying that's not sufficient?

  • Alex Padilla:

    A It isn't sufficient.

    We are working. We are beginning to share information. But part of what states have shared with the federal government is the need for additional resources. The 4300 million and change from last month was helpful, but, frankly, what Congress appropriated last month was leftover butterfly ballot, hanging chad money from the wake of the Florida 2000 debacle.

    That is not new money that's been approved by Congress or the president has called for in the wake of the 2016 elections. So, we need additional investment for the threats of today, not the threats of 15 years ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How much more money are you calling for?

  • Alex Padilla:

    Here's the — I think how — a good comparison.

    It's not just Trump. It's congressional Republicans. Last week, it was the House of Representatives. This week — just yesterday, it was the United States Senate defeating a proposal to invest $250 million in additional money for election cyber-security grants to the states.

    At the same time, approving a $700 billion defense authorization. Protecting our elections is a matter of national security. For less than one-tenth of 1 percent of what was given for defense spending, you could do so much to help further secure and protect the bedrock of our democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's an interesting point you make, because, today, the homeland security secretary, Nielsen, said the cyber-threat now exceeds what — she said the danger of a physical attack on the United States.

    Just finally, we heard the FBI director, Christopher Wray, say that, compared to 2016, this year, we're not seeing the same kind of efforts to specifically target election infrastructure, but other efforts to influence public opinion continue.

    What do you see in that regard?

  • Alex Padilla:

    Look, I think we cannot rest on our laurels. We take nothing for granted.

    There's different types of attacks that have been coming our way and will continue. Is it a threat on our elections infrastructure? Absolutely. And they will keep coming. Is it a threat to simply create chaos, confusion and undermine confidence in elections?

    Voter confidence is so critical in the strength of our democracy. We saw that and more in 2016. We're seeing that and more in 2018 and beyond. So, again, our safeguard, our security measures have worked to protect elections thus far, but we have to stay at least one step ahead of the bad guys.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, we thank you.

  • Alex Padilla:

    Thank you.

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