States Press Congress for More Election Security Aid

"Secure Elections Act" Has Bipartisan Support, But More Money Unlikely to Come This Year

The $380 million Congress set aside earlier this year to help state election officials secure voting and registration systems was only a down payment on what’s needed, several of those officials told lawmakers this week.

“What we really need is ongoing maintenance, if you want to call it,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos. “Cybersecurity is an evolving science and it’s an evolving practice, and we have continuous needs.” Vermont’s share of the money already provided is $3 million.

Condos was part of a parade of state election officials who testified at a Senate Rules Committee hearing on Wednesday. Despite their pleas, and warnings from the nation’s intelligence agencies that Russian hackers already are meddling in the 2018 midterm elections, it’s unlikely Congress will appropriate additional funds for election security this year, The Washington Post reported.

The committee is considering a proposed Secure Elections Act, which has attracted bipartisan support unusual in this Congress. The Post said that in its current form, the bill would streamline the way the Department of Homeland Security shares cyberthreat information with state and local election offices, speed up security clearances for state election officials, and set voluntary guidelines for voting equipment and post-election audits.

Politico reports that several Democratic lawmakers have asked the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the agency responsible for funneling federal election aid to the states, to bar states from using the funds to purchase paperless voting machines. Those machines are considered the most vulnerable to cyberattacks like those intelligence agencies believe Russian hackers carried out in at least 21 states in 2016.

The cyberattacks have sparked a movement by some states to switch to machines that produce a paper record of each vote. At least two states, Colorado and Rhode Island, also have moved to institute “risk-limiting” audits, using the paper ballots to double check the vote counts reported by voting machines on Election Night.