Feds Release $380M for Election Cybersecurity

Counties question how much of the $380 million Congress allocated for election security will reach them.

The United States Election Assistance Commission is notifying states this month about their allocation of the $380 million awarded by Congress bolster election security. The funds are part of a spending bill recently signed by President Trump.

In order to be eligible for funding, states are required to match five percent of the funds within two years of their receipt. The funds can be used in the following ways:

  • Replace voting equipment that only records a voter’s intent electronically with equipment that uses a voter-verified paper record
  • Implement a post-election audit system that provides a high level of confidence in the accuracy of the final vote tally
  • Upgrade election-related computer systems to address cyber vulnerabilities identified through Department of Homeland Security or similar scans or assessments of existing election systems
  • Facilitate cybersecurity training for the state chief election official’s office and local election officials
  • Implement established cybersecurity best practices for election systems
  • Fund other activities that will improve the security of elections for federal office.

According to NACo:

Counties administer and fund elections at the local level, overseeing more than 109,000 polling places and coordinating more than 694,000 poll workers every two years.

It’s still up in the air how the money will be spent in each state, but some county election officials contacted by County News offered their ideas. To begin: Will counties see some of that money?

“I think it’s very possible counties will see some of that money, especially larger urban counties,” said Neal Kelley, registrar of voters, Orange County, Calif. “It’s earmarked for hardening networks, hardening systems and additional protections, so it can’t just be at the state level. They need to pass that through and down to the counties.”

Where are the security risks?

“A huge chunk of the risk, in the elections infrastructure, is with the voter registration databases, that’s where the Russians hacked,” said Weber County, Utah Clerk-Auditor Ricky Hatch, whose state recently OK’d funding for new voting equipment purchases.

“When they talk about the Russians trying to get into 21 states, it’s the voter registration databases they were trying to get into,” he said. “Most states are the managers and owners of voter registration databases and counties are participants, but it’s hosted and led by the state.” Hatch noted that another aspect of elections that needs to be shored up is election night reporting.

Aging voting machines

Some counties are using election equipment more than 10 years old, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. The center recently surveyed 229 officials in 33 states who reported they need to replace their voting machines by 2020. But most do not have enough funds to replace them. The problems that can take place when using older machines include Election Day malfunctions resulting in longer lines and the possibility for hacks even if they are not directly connected to the Internet.

For counties considering new voting machines, the clock is ticking. Given the timeframe before the November elections, trying to use the funding to add new voting machines before then just is not doable, Cook County Director of Elections Noah Praetz said. “We’re seven months out from an election…the idea that you could turn around a procurement in that amount of time is exceedingly difficult.”

“This money only covers a small fraction of what’s necessary to upgrade,” he said. “Just given an installation cycle, there’s almost no way anybody could turn this money around to get equipment.”

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

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