Who Should Foot the Bill for a Secure Election System?

Who Should Foot the Bill for a Secure Election System?

Hans Deryk

In a party-line vote, House Republicans on Thursday blocked a Democratic effort to boost election security funding. The vote was on a procedural motion by Democrats intended to add $380 million for state election security grants in 2019 to a larger spending package. That spending legislation, which includes nearly $59 billion for the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Treasury Department, was approved, 217-199.

Democratic lawmakers chanted "USA! USA!" on the House floor as they sought to support the bill, but Republicans insisted that those grants do not need additional funding given that as states have not yet used up all the money previously allocated to the program.

“Over the past decade you’ve seen billions of dollars funded, by Republicans and Democrats, in our bipartisan appropriations each year to do exactly that, secure elections here at home,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said, according to The Washington Post.

But with 110 days to go before the midterm elections, Politico reports that most states have not fixed security weaknesses in their voting systems — and few say they are planning to step up their defenses against hacking and other threats, despite Congress having approved an earlier appropriation of $380 million in election security funding. Nearly $334 million of the money approved in March, or about 88 percent, has already been provided to the states, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission said this week.

Politico’s Eric Geller writes: “Only 13 states said they intend to use the federal dollars to buy new voting machines. At least 22 said they have no plans to replace their machines before the election — including all five states that rely solely on paperless electronic voting devices, which cybersecurity experts consider a top vulnerability.” Those states are Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey and South Carolina.

Officials in some states say they are working to address security concerns as quickly as possible “given realities like available funding,” Geller adds. Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas told Politico that they did not get enough federal money to overhaul their election systems.

But Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who is sponsoring a bipartisan bill meant to strengthen voting security, said states must step up on their own to address the issues. “It is not the federal government’s responsibility to pay for new machines for you,” he told Politico, adding “Do what is your state’s responsibility to be able to take care of your own elections and make sure they’re secure.”

Why it matters: Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats just warned that election technology and the other “digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”

This article was updated at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 19.