WASHINGTON -- Leading U.S. senators said Russian-linked hackers succeeded in penetrating the voting system in at least one U.S. state in 2016, as lawmakers called for new efforts to protect those U.S. election systems from hacking.
The March 20 call came as the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report following a yearlong investigation into the scope of efforts by Russian and other hackers to meddle with U.S. voting systems.
The Senate committee is the leading congressional panel looking into Russian efforts to interfere in the U.S. electoral system, in particular the 2016 presidential vote. The committee has also investigated interactions between Russian officials and associates of President Donald Trump and his administration.
Committee chairman, Republican Richard Burr, said that Russia-backed hackers had targeted computer systems in 21 states, but he insisted they had not altered any vote tallies.
“Russia was trying to undermine the confidence of our election system,” he said. “Clearly, the Russians have the intent to cause chaos in the election, and they had the capability to do it.”
The lawmakers’ conclusions echo those of the U.S. intelligence community, which in 2017 issued a report that accused Russia of engaging in a hacking-and-propaganda campaign aimed at swaying U.S. voters in 2016.
Several lawmakers criticized the Department of Homeland Security, the main federal agency charged with protecting U.S. infrastructure, saying there were multiple failures to communicate to state election officials the scale of the hacking problem.
But they also sought to press state officials to upgrade equipment and technology used in voting -- for example, making sure there is a paper tally as well as an electronic one.
They also called on the federal government to do more to deter foreign cyberattacks.
The U.S. congressional elections scheduled for November will determine which political party controls the legislature’s two chambers.
In the United States, the conduct of elections is primarily the responsibility of states. The federal government provides funding and support but does not organize or run elections.