On March 1, 2022, Secretary Mayorkas delivered remarks at the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) 2022 Winter Conference. His remarks are below.
Thank you very much for the kind introduction. Thank you very much for the opportunity to share a few thoughts with all of you and my thanks to all of you for the incredibly important work that you perform.
I'd like to just start my brief remarks on both a professional and personal note. You know, right now, it's a very, very difficult time in the world. We are seeing the devastation and tragedy that an authoritarian regime can inflict on a sovereign nation. We are seeing that in Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on the sovereign nation of Ukraine. We can never take our freedoms, our shining democracy, for granted.
And I was raised to cherish what our democracy is and its institutions mean in the lives of people. My parents brought my sister and me to this country from Cuba, fleeing the Communist takeover of that country. And we learned to have a deep and profound appreciation for the opportunities we have, not only to build a life for ourselves but to help shape the life of our country. And the foundation of our democracy, of our strength, and our power to shape our future, rests in the right to vote.
All of you, as Secretaries of State and Election Directors, have a vital role to play in protecting that fundamental right, that right to vote, and you deserve and have our enduring thanks. I cannot overstate the importance of the work that you perform, the value of that work in preserving and advancing our democracy. It is as fundamental and foundational as that.
We here in the Department of Homeland Security are here to partner with you, to support you in protecting the right to vote and the election system of which it is a part. And we do so by helping you advance the security of our election system – the elections themselves, the systems that preserve our ballots, the people who administer the elections, and the citizens who vote.
Each day, all of you, election officials under your purview, confront threats to the security and integrity of our elections from foreign interference, nefarious actors, and others – cybersecurity threats from sophisticated, state-sponsored threat actors and cyber criminals, increasing physical security concerns including unprecedented levels of threats and harassment targeting election officials, and what is increasingly becoming rampant mis- and disinformation about elections that undermine confidence in our democratic institutions. Our work in the Department of Homeland Security is focused on countering and combating these challenges with you, alongside you, always in a non-partisan manner. We do so in a number of different ways.
We, of course, share information and intelligence with you, keeping you apprised of the threat landscape and how best to address it. We are committed to imposing real costs on those who interfere in our elections, including by disrupting the bad actors -- and we do this across the federal enterprise – disrupting the bad actors, holding them accountable through law enforcement actions, imposing sanctions, and by engagement through diplomatic channels as well.
It is absolutely unacceptable that election officials are increasingly encountering harassment and threatening behavior. And while your physical security, while local officials and law enforcement provide that security to you, our Department’s ten regions across the country have physical and cybersecurity advisors on the ground, from ocean to ocean, from border to border, across this country, who work to protect our critical infrastructure and to protect all of you. They conduct assessments of the security environment and brief all of you and the law enforcement community on the threats they identify.
Our bulletins, such as our NTAS bulletins, highlight calls to violence in response to unsubstantiated claims of election fraud and other false narratives. I have spoken publicly about the fact that domestic violent extremism is the greatest terrorism related threat we face in the homeland today. That is individuals driven to violence by ideologies of hate, or false narratives, and other forces.
We work closely with the Department of Justice’s Election Threats Task Force to equip you with information and resources to address the challenges we all confront.
Our Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, CISA as it is commonly known, provides cyber threat information to you, and counsels you on how best to defend your systems, including by sharing with you the tactics and techniques that our adversaries employ and how best to guard against them.
We will assist you in countering mis- and disinformation. It is critical to be transparent about the disinformation campaigns we identify, counter election-related false narratives, and communicate accurate information to the public. All of you, the state and local officials, are the most trusted sources of election information in the communities across our entire nation. You have the authority. You are empowered to protect the right to vote, the most fundamental right that can shape our democracy, that helps define our country as the greatest country in the world.
I want to just express on behalf of everyone in our Department how incredibly proud to partner with all of you and how grateful we are for the work you perform. It is, as I said at the very outset, one of the most vitally important services that you can do for the American public and for the identity of our country as a true and lasting democracy.
Thanks very much.