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Federal Funding to Protect Elections Is Coming Soon. How Will Your State Spend It?

April 26, 2018


Federal Funding to Protect Elections Is Coming Soon. How Will Your State Spend It?

What to Watch For When Critical Government Funds Are Distributed

Federal funds are coming to secure elections around the country. What’s planned in your state and county?

The federal government in its most recent budget approved $380 million for states to upgrade their voting systems and make them more secure. To receive the funds, states must come up with a match equal to five percent of the federal grant. This is a critical improvement that will help protect our democracy, but with those funds being split among all 50 states, there are limited resources available. Election security experts are now warning against investing in insufficient and insecure systems.

In most states, counties are responsible for administering elections. It will be up to each state to determine how the funds will be spent and to decide if and how counties will receive a share of the funding. Counties may differ significantly in their need for funds based on their local budgets and whether or not they rely on insecure paperless voting machines.

Read on to learn more about important guidelines and safety measures that will help protect our democracy.

Guidelines for use of funding to keep our elections safe.

Not all election systems are created equal. Below are the key measures that should be taken to strengthen election security:

  • Replace paperless Direction Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems with systems that use a voter-verified paper record.

  • Implement rigorous post-election audits.

  • Upgrade election computer systems.

  • Provide cybersecurity training for election officials.

  • Implement cybersecurity best practices for systems.

Guidelines for making elections secure.

To protect our democracy, it is important to know that:

  • A secure voting system allows voters to mark a paper ballot on solid card stock where their choices are listed for them to review before ballots are cast.

  • Voting systems that print only on receipt paper, a reel-to-reel roll or thermal paper that can bleach in the sun are not easy to audit. Systems that print only a barcode also are not easy to audit.

  • Audits of machine vote counts make elections secure and verifiable.

  • All voting machines, including paper ballot scanners, can be hacked. What is critical is that voters mark a paper ballot and that election officials use those paper ballots to audit enough machines to be fairly certain that the machine vote count is correct.

  • Vendors may be selling voting systems that do not meet those criteria.

  • Auditing larger percentages of the paper ballots by hand when a contest is close is a good best practice.

  • A technique called “risk-limiting audits” can give voters and election officials a high degree of confidence in the vote count while requiring only a few ballots to be recounted at the county level.

  • Colorado already implements risk-limiting audits statewide and Rhode Island passed a law to do the same.

  • Voting machine vendors do not publish the prices for their products, which could make it easier for them to overcharge election officials.

This information is reinforced in an open letter to election officials from advocacy leaders across the political spectrum.

Questions to ask county and state election officials.

With an influx of critical federal money coming in, it is important to know how it will be spent.

Questions you may want to ask election officials include:

  • Will the election security funds be used for purposes that will be most effective in securing the vote – that is, buying the voter-marked paper ballot scanners where they aren’t being used?

  • Will the funds entirely go to state security expenses or will county election officials who carry out the bulk of election administration also be able to access them? Will the state be providing additional funds beyond the required five percent match?

  • When will the money be made available?

  • What voting systems that use a voter verified paper record will be certified in our state for purchase? Learn which systems are certified by state.

If you have any questions or would like more information, contact Public Citizen. More information on election security issues overall is available at https://SecureOurVote.us.