States need more federal funds to secure elections: report

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States are in need of further funding from the federal government to fully secure elections, a report published Thursday found, citing six states as examples.

The report was compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice, the R Street Institute, the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security, and the Alliance for Securing Democracy. It spotlights Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

“Elections are the pillar of American democracy, and, as we saw in 2016 and 2018, foreign governments will continue to target them,” the authors wrote in the report. “States cannot counter these adversaries alone, nor should they have to. But at a time when free and fair elections are increasingly under attack, they can, with additional federal funding, safeguard them.”{mosads}

Four of the states reported that future federal funds are needed to replace “legacy” or older voting equipment that have cyber vulnerabilities, while several other states cited the need for funding to train election officials in cybersecurity. 

Pennsylvania specifically reported the need for regular county cybersecurity assessments of election systems, while in Oklahoma, the authors pointed to the need for funding to conduct post-election audits, which ensure that the voting tally is correct. 

The report noted that “it is clear that the other 44 states and the District of Columbia have similar unfunded needs.”

The report also highlighted how existing federal funds have been used by the states to increase election security. Congress appropriated $380 million in 2018 for the Election Security Commission (EAC) to distribute to the states to bolster election security, with states required to provide a matching 5 percent in funds within two years. 

In Illinois, a state that former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s election interference found had its voter database compromised in 2016 by Russian hackers, all funds are going toward improving cybersecurity. 

Arizona is prioritizing bolstering cybersecurity as well, along with replacing its voter registration database, while Louisiana is using all of its current federal funds for election security to replace voting equipment.

The report was released in the midst of a heated debate on Capitol Hill on whether further election security funding and legislation is needed. Democrats are pushing for legislation, with Republicans generally opposed. 

Last month, the House approved the fiscal 2020 financial services and general government funding bill with a provision granting the EAC $600 million that would be handed over to states to shore up their voting infrastructure.

However, this year’s bill has little chance of being approved by the Senate. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the funding bill, told reporters last month that he is “very, very skeptical about the wisdom of including” the $600 million in funding to states.

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