- Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters
- In the massive omnibus spending bill Congress released on Wednesday, lawmakers included funding for election security.
- $380 million would allow states to boost their election infrastructures, and another $300 million would be to combat Russian cyberattacks.
- Election security experts told Business Insider this was a good step in the right direction to shore up the American election system ahead of the 2018 midterms.
Congress provided $380 million in election security funding as part of its massive spending bill, a move that reflects the growing consensus in Washington that more needs to be done to ensure the integrity of America’s elections.
The funding would go to the Election Assistance Commission, which then must distribute the funds to states within 45 days to replace aging voting machines, implement post-election audits, and provide cybersecurity training for state and local officials, among other election security related improvements.
“In this challenging political time, this has to be seen as a win and a recognition that [election security] is an important responsibility,” Adam Ambrogi, the director of the Elections Program at the Democracy Fund, told Business Insider. “The federal government needs to aid the states. The states don’t have this money laying around.”
It’s the largest distribution of funds from the federal government to states in the area of election security since Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002, which appropriated $4 billion in funds.
It’s also a sign that lawmakers are willing to confront the vulnerabilities in state election systems that voting technology experts and election officials have been warning about for months.
“This is a really positive step,” David Becker, the director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, told Business Insider. “It shows how members of both parties can address a real challenge.”
Under pressure to act
- Thomson Reuters
Since the US intelligence community announced last year that Russia tried to penetrate voting systems in 21 states during the 2016 presidential election, state officials have been under growing pressure to improve cybersecurity and replace outdated voting machines that leave no traceable record of votes.
That pressure mounted last month when top US intelligence chiefs testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia would again try to hack into and manipulate American elections in 2018 and beyond.
“We need to inform the American public that this is real,” said Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence. “We are not going to allow some Russian to tell us how we’re going to vote. There needs to be a national cry for that.”
The latest omnibus spending bill, which the Senate is expected to pass on Friday, included attempts to address that concern by providing some $300 million to the FBI to counter Russian cyberattacks.
But these funds, along with the $380 million allocated for election security efforts, are far below what some lawmakers wanted.
In February, Democrats introduced the Election Security Act – without any support from Republicans – that would give states more than $1 billion in grants to boost their election systems. That measure, along with three other bipartisan bills introduced in recent months, have stalled in Congress.
Nevertheless, Ambrogi, from the Democracy Fund, called the allocation of election security money “a modest, but important stream of funding” that will give a “quick lift” to states.
During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio painted a terrifying picture of how another country could meddle in US elections, and hypothetically trigger a constitutional crisis.
Two US Homeland Security secretaries said many of the incidents in Rubio’s scenario already took place when Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and agreed that Congress needs to act to shore up the American electoral system ahead of the 2018 midterms in November.