States Offered New Federal Funding for Election Security

A massive federal government spending bill was unveiled March 21st, that includes $380 million to help counter cyber-attacks on U.S. voting systems in all 50 U.S. states and territories. The bill's passing is Congress’ first real step to bolster election security since the allegations of Russian hacking in the 2016 elections. This bill would provide a $307 million increase in the Trump administration’s request for the FBI’s budget. The bureau’s increased funding would be used for counter-intelligence to protect against Russian cyber-attacks.

While this funding is much needed, it is unclear if the funding would be available and delivered to states in time for the 2018 midterm elections. North Carolina U.S. Senator Richard Burr stated that the need for improved election security is “urgent,” but it may even be too late to make a difference in the 2020 presidential election.

One of the larger election security concerns arises in states that do not have a paper ballot backup of votes cast on electronic machines. Security experts claim that a paper backup is vital to ensuring no tampering has occurred. Five states do not currently utilize a paper backup. For some time now, state election officials have requested federal funding that would help them better protect their election systems. Despite prior inaction from Congress, almost all states have taken steps on their own to purchase more secure equipment, expand the use of paper ballots, and improve poll worker and election administration cyber training.

The proposed omnibus bill would be on par with the $396 million that state election officials have requested from Congress for cybersecurity. The House voted to advance the bill Thursday, March 22nd, and the Senate passed the spending bill on Friday.