Election officials from states spanning New England and the Midwest visited Congress yesterday with a clear message: Send us more money to help secure the vote. Yet lawmakers are acknowledging that states probably won’t get more federal funding for election security upgrades anytime soon — which does not bode well for states seeking to upgrade to their systems before an anticipated surge of cyberattacks surrounding the midterm elections. It also could hinder states trying to carefully plan longer-term improvements they hope to make for the next political cycle.
The Secure Elections Act is the main bill senators are pushing to help states respond to the mounting threats. But at this point, senators “will not use this bill to send additional funding to states,” said a Republican Senate aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to disrupt deliberations about the bill.
Lawmakers are seeking to pass the bipartisan legislation by the fall, and there is broad consensus in the Senate about the need to do more to help states. Although Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said she was exploring ways to get annual election security funding into the legislation, she said it could be difficult before the midterms.
When the bill was introduced in December, it included a $380 million grant program for states to pay for election system upgrades. Congress peeled off that provision and approved it as part of the massive government spending bill President Trump signed in March. Most states are drawing down their shares of those funds now, but election officials and election security experts say it’s just a start — that most states need far more to replace aging voting equipment, hire IT staff and take other steps to secure their networks.
At a Senate Rules Committee hearing Wednesday, Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos testified that the state plans to use all of the $3 million share of the election security funding it received from Congress. “What we really need is ongoing maintenance, if you want to call it,” he said. “Cybersecurity is an evolving science and it’s an evolving practice, and we have continuous needs.”
“Given the costs of regular technology refreshes and support for human resources with cyber capacity, the needed investment is very large,” added Noah Praetz, director of elections in Cook County, Ill., in written testimony. “We need a signal that we can invest now for security and not squirrel away recent money for some future episode.”
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Derek Hawkins is a reporter for the Washington Post.