Hackers working for the Russian government successfully penetrated the voter rolls of a small number of states, according to Jeannette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity in the Department of Homeland Security.
Manfra told NBC News that 21 states were targeted by the hackers, and an "exceptionally small number" of states were successfully accessed.
When the question of Russian interference in the 2016 election has been raised, many people — particularly Republicans — have been quick to point out that there's no evidence that vote tallies were changed. This is true — it's hard to imagine what kind of chaos would ensue if Americans couldn't have faith in the election results.
But access to voter rolls could provide another way to influence an election. Instead of changing votes, hackers could remove certain voters from the database, meaning they would never be allowed to vote at all.
DHS says there's no evidence that the voter rolls that were accessed were altered. While that's somewhat reassuring, the fact that the rolls were penetrated at all remains deeply troubling.
Trump refuses to seriously address Russian meddling
As Politico reported in November, Congress has hardly been vigilant in pursuit of secure elections. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump appears to be most concerned with defending his own image when it comes to all things Russia, and he has frequently cast doubt on whether the Kremlin tried to influence the 2016 election at all.
Even worse, the administration recently announced it would delay imposing sanctions that Congress voted for on Russia as a punishment for election interference.
This demonstrates that Trump, who openly called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's State Department emails, does not take the threat seriously at all and may even condone it.
States are having trouble communicating with the federal government
With the 2018 elections approaching fast, many of the states told NBC News that they have had difficulty working with the federal government to secure their election systems. Some state officials said they were told they didn't have the proper clearance to find out about their system's vulnerabilities, and others say they've faced delays in requests for help from DHS. Manfra says the department is working on addressing these needs.
Aside from the question of whether hostile agents can successfully influence the election, there's another question about the American public's faith in its elections. Can the government both ensure the security of its elections and convince the population that the process was legitimate?
That's one of the major challenges facing our elected officials as we head toward the midterms. Let's hope they're up for the task.
Watch the NBC News segment below: