Texas denies state was target of election-related hacking by Russia

A week after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security identified 21 states that were targeted by Russian government hackers before the 2016 presidential election, a top Texas official is disputing that the state belongs on that list. 

People voting in Houston on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

*Correction appended.

A top state official is pushing back against the federal government's claim that Texas was among states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 presidential election.  

"At no point were any election-related systems, software, or information compromised by malicious cyber actors," Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Thursday.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security said the election infrastructure of 21 states, including Texas, was targeted by Russian hackers. Being targeted does not mean that votes were changed but that a system was scanned.

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Shortly after the announcement, officials in California and Wisconsin said they'd received contradictory information from the department that suggested they'd been incorrectly included on that list.

Pablos, in his letter, made a similar claim and asked the department to "correct its erroneous notification" that the state agency's website had been the target of malicious hackers. Pablos argued that federal officials had based their assessment on "incorrect information" and that an investigation by his office with the state's Department of Information Resources had found no such targeting.

"In order to restore public confidence in the integrity of our elections systems, it is imperative for DHS to further clarify the information provided," the letter says.  "Our office understands that you have provided similar clarification to election officials in Wisconsin and California. We respectfully request you provide the same clarification to the State of Texas."

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman told Reuters Thursday that "additional information and clarity" had been provided to several states, and that the department stood by its assessment "that Internet-connected networks in 21 states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure." 

But Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State, said Friday that the issue remained unsettled.

“Our office is hoping to have a conversation with DHS in the coming days to receive additional clarification on this issue,” Taylor said.

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Last September, Pablos' predecessor denied a request by the Russian consul general in Houston to allow a Russian government official inside a Texas polling station on Election Day to study the U.S. election process.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misidentified the official who denied a 2016 request by a Russian official.