Director Easterly's Remarks to the National Association of State Election Directors' Summer Conference

Thanks so much for having me here. I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend time with all of you today to reinforce CISA’s unwavering support for all of you in the all-important mission of defending the foundation of our democratic process.

I’d like to extend special thanks to Rob Rock, Amy Cohen, the NASED Executive Board, and the great state of South Carolina for hosting us today. And of course, I too want to recognize the incredible career of a tremendous public servant, Linda Lamone. Maryland, its residents, and our country are better and more secure because of your leadership and dedication over the past twenty-six years.

For me, Linda, you symbolize what Teddy Roosevelt spoke about in his “Citizens in a Republic” speech. He said: “It is not the critic who counts. The credit goes to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends themselves in a worthy cause.”

You have stood in the arena of the most important aspect of our democratic union—the mission of ensuring free, fair, and secure elections. Thank you for your great partnership with CISA, your leadership on election security, and your tireless public service to your state and our country. You have truly made a difference.

I also want to take a moment to thank another election hero, CISA’s very own Kim Wyman who has served in the election space for over 22 years. From her time as the Thurston County Auditor and Elections Director to her service as Secretary of State for Washington to her time at CISA as my Senior Election Security Advisor, Kim has led from the front and by example, and like Linda, has been a beacon of moral courage. Thanks for all you did for CISA, and more importantly thank you for standing proudly in the arena defending democracy for over two decades.

More broadly, I want to thank all of you for what you do, every day, to stand in the arena. In my view, you all are heroes. For a quarter of a century, starting when I joined the United States Military Academy at West Point just after my 18th birthday, I served in uniform in peacetime and in combat. Whenever I would travel, people across America would thank me for my service. As I’ve gotten to know the election community over the past two years, the work you do, without regard to party or politics, to defend our democracy—I think there is no group more deserving of the gratitude of the American people.

The past several years have brought forth challenges that have affected many of you in very personal ways. We at CISA recognize your fortitude, commitment, and courage in staying with this mission.

Free and fair elections are the hallmark of American democracy—the stakes could not be higher—so I am grateful we have the best the country has to offer on the frontlines defending it. Our work together to ensure the security and resilience of election infrastructure is foundational to preserving Americans’ trust in the security of our democratic process and is one of CISA’s, and our partners across the federal government’s, highest priorities. I could not be prouder of our Agency, what we do, and how we do it—every day upholding our sworn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

As we approach the 2024 Presidential election cycle, we remain laser focused on ensuring that you continue to have the support you need. That includes fostering the ability to rapidly share information about the full range of cyber and physical threats to election infrastructure. It means providing no cost services to state and local government officials and private sector election infrastructure partners. It means amplifying your voices as the true experts on election issues. It means working with you to ensure that the American people have accurate information on election security issues, particularly in the face of malign foreign influence operations and disinformation.

I also want to make clear that we fully recognize the difficulties you have faced over the past several years. Many of you are overworked and under-resourced. Some of you have faced harassment and threats to yourselves and your families. Yet, all of you remain undeterred in your mission to serve the nation on the frontlines of our democracy. And you do so with courage, with grace, and with resilience, that is humbling and awe-inspiring. Our nation owes all of you a debt of gratitude. It is because of you and election officials across the nation that Americans can have trust in the security and integrity of our elections. I want you to know, that at CISA, we have your backs.

Together, we have made great strides over the past six-plus years in reducing cyber and physical security risk to election infrastructure. Use of CISA and CISA-funded services and resources is higher than ever. From vulnerability scanning to physical security assessments, adoption of a dot gov domain, tabletop exercises, and EI-ISAC membership and cyber resources, election stakeholders continue to take advantage of our no-cost, voluntary services, and resources to help reduce risk to election infrastructure.

Separately, in large part due to your efforts, CISA and our federal partners’ situational awareness on cyber activity affecting election infrastructure has never been stronger.

With robust information sharing and cyber activity reporting from federal, state and local, international, and private sector partners via our Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative or JCDC, we and our partners are postured to rapidly downgrade intelligence and share actionable information with you and your network defenders—our capabilities and posture in this area is simply “night and day” when compared to 2016.

Despite this progress, we know there is more to be done and that we must remain vigilant in the face of new and evolving risks. This is why we are doubling down on the election security mission at CISA and energizing our role in supporting you.

To start, I asked my Senior Advisor Cait Conley to take on the work of driving our election security efforts. A fellow West Point grad and combat veteran, Cait brings incredible energy, discipline, and intensity to this mission. Cait joined CISA after two years at the National Security Council serving as a director for counterterrorism, following more than a decade of experience in the U.S military’s Special Operations community. Many of you may have worked with Cait previously during her tenure as the Executive Director at the Belfer Center’s bipartisan Defending Digital Democracy Project. I have heard some legit war stories from survivors of the TTXs she ran! I could not have asked for a better partner in this effort going into 2024.

Succeeding in this mission also means we need to do more to meet all of you and your election officials where you are. You have been working with our cybersecurity and protective security advisors for years now, and that support will only continue. We also recognize that elections—given their complexity—demand their own expertise. As the saying goes, if you’ve seen one election, then you’ve seen one election.

That is why we are now establishing dedicated election security advisors in each of our ten regions to help build even stronger connective tissue between you all and our team at CISA. These election security advisors will be part of our teams across the country, working directly for our regional directors to ensure all CISA capabilities and resources are being optimally employed to meet your unique needs to ensure targeted risk mitigation. These election security advisors will be experts in the space, with firsthand knowledge of and experience with the infrastructure and officials across their regions in order to provide more tailored guidance and support to reduce risk from the full range of cyber and physical threats to your election infrastructure. Bottom line, we want to do more for you and will be where you need us to be to make that happen.

While we continue to prepare for 2024, we’re not taking our eyes off the ball for 2023. Our next major training event will be the NASED cohosted Tabletop the Vote in two weeks.  

As many of you know, this is an important way to test your processes and communications as we tackle scenarios to help prepare for the upcoming elections. The deadline to register is July 31st – so please join us.  

With that, I really just want to end with this message: Please continue to let us know how we can help you. We’ve learned so much from the election community over the years. And we will continue to listen and to learn. I promise you have our commitment to do everything we can to support you.

As we know, elections are the golden thread that run through our democracy. Election security is not a partisan issue; rather it is an issue of preserving that foundational fabric of our democracy.

In this endeavor, we at CISA remain inspired every day by you—by your courage, by your commitment, by your resilience—as you serve on the front lines of this sacred mission, representing as Lincoln said, the better angels of our nature.  

Thank you for your service to our nation. There is nothing more important – we will fight to defend it with you.