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14 states activate National Guard for midterm elections

Members of the National Guard, outside the U.S. Capitol Building. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
November 08, 2022

The National Guard has been activated in at least 14 states to protect against cyber attacks around the U.S. midterm election that ends Nov. 8.

More than a dozen states, including Colorado, Connecticut and Iowa, are tapping their Guardsmen to monitor for threats and review local cybersecurity, according to the U.S. Army.

Guard officials didn’t detail any perceived threats or vulnerabilities, but told Defense One they don’t expect any significant cyber attacks to disrupt this year’s midterm election.

The Guard has played an increasing role in cybersecurity over the past several elections, including in eight states during this year’s primary. It now has more than 2,200 personnel serving in 38 cyber units in various states, according to the Army.

“We saw the challenges that came out of the 2016 election, and that was when we really started to address the issues of election systems, particularly when election systems became part of critical infrastructure,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard.

In North Carolina, cyber units have trained state entities and officials in most counties, according to Maj. Gen. Marvin Hunt, adjutant general for that state’s Guard. He said the work of his cyber team will “surge during the election to ensure that we have 24-hour coverage throughout this whole process.”

“We’re really that third party that comes in—it’s just assisting them—to give them a different look, so that on election day, we can all have confidence in our election systems,” Hunt said. 

Neely told Defense One that few states are strong enough in the cyber arena, and the need is only growing. 

Security professionals hired by states often face “military-grade adversaries” they aren’t equipped to counter, said Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, assistant adjutant general and commander of the Washington Air National Guard.

Neely said the Guard’s cyber help during the elections is “really about a whole community coming together.”

“We are using these unique skills and equipment we have as military members to partner for a whole-of-government approach,” he said.