States back omnibus with election security funds

State election officials are urging lawmakers in Washington to pass a massive funding bill that includes $380 million in grants to protect digital voting systems from cyberattacks.

The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) released a statement supporting the bill Thursday morning, just as House lawmakers voted to advance the omnibus spending package.

{mosads}The bill includes $380 million to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to dole out in grants for states “to enhance election technology and make election security improvements.” The inclusion of the funds represents a burgeoning effort in Congress to bolster cybersecurity around U.S. voting infrastructure in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

State officials, who have at times resisted certain federal help to secure elections, are urging Congress to pass the omnibus.

“There is no higher priority than protecting our election systems,” said Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson (R), the current president of NASS who, like many other secretaries of state, serves as the chief election official for her state.

Lawson said she looks forward to investing the funds “in system upgrades, voting protections, and voter education.”

“Safeguarding the integrity of our elections process will require the ongoing commitment and vigilance of the federal, state and local governments and our public and private partner institutions,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos (D), president-elect of NASS. “We must collaboratively work to guarantee secure elections, thus restoring voter confidence in our systems and in our democracy.”

The Department of Homeland Security revealed last year that Russian hackers targeted voting systems in 21 states as part of its broader effort to influence the 2016 presidential election. While most of the targeting was not successful, the revelation spurred efforts in Congress to address voting system cybersecurity ahead of future votes.

Homeland Security in early 2017 designated voter registration databases and other election systems as critical infrastructure, opening it up to voluntary federal protections. Some state and local officials have resisted the designation, fearing a federal takeover of elections, which have historically been administered by the states.

Still, state officials had been pressing lawmakers to allocate the remaining $396 million authorized by the 2002 Help America Vote Act so states could make security upgrades to their election infrastructure. The money allocated in the omnibus is on par with that amount.

In addition to allocating $380 million for election cybersecurity in the states, the funding bill also includes $307 million for the FBI to counter Russian cyberattacks. 

The measure is teed up for a final vote in the House later Thursday, and if successful will advance to the Senate. The government will shut down Saturday in the absence of a new appropriations bill.