Together we can achieve more than covering voting machines with tape


Photo illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

Election infrastructure is critical national security infrastructure—we just don’t fund it that way.

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated voting infrastructure as “part of the critical infrastructure sector of existing government facilities.” DHS noted that election infrastructure is “vital to our national interests and cyberattacks against this country are becoming more sophisticated and malicious cyberactors – from nation-states to cybercriminals to hacktivists – are becoming more sophisticated and dangerous.”

Unfortunately, public funding for the electoral administration has been patchy and, when it did come, insufficient.

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Since 2010, Congress has only approved funds that included local election departments three times: In 2018 and 2020, Congress approved $380 million and $425 million, respectively, in Help America Vote Act (HAVA) election security funds. Additionally, an additional $400 million has been allocated through the CARES Act for 2020 emergency election assistance.

The most recent consideration is the modernization of the Elector’s Law, which is more than a hundred years old.

The law has been criticized since its passage for being obscure, complex and vague — and for allowing Congress to reject state-submitted Electoral College findings.

The technology we use to count votes is different today than it was in 1887, but one thing hasn’t changed: local electoral authorities still need resources to conduct safe, inclusive, and secure elections. And that requires Congress.

Between the bipartisan effort to reform the Electoral Counts Act and the Democrats’ efforts to protect the right to vote, now is the perfect time to invest in resources to keep local elections safe. Such investments would protect the autonomy and integrity of local elections – providing more resources to invest in what voters need while complying with existing federal laws such as the Voting Rights Act – and allow everyone to exercise their civic duty without unnecessary complications.

We know firsthand how a lack of stable public funding can make life difficult for local electoral authorities. Over the past two years, we have heard from 2,500 local election authorities about their funding gaps and needs during the 2020 election.

Some of the stories from small rural jurisdictions make it clear that they often went years without any significant public investment. Some reported being able to use grants as little as $5,000 in the 2020 election to fund fundamental improvements. It might seem hard to believe, but $5,000 can actually go a long way. Five grand were paid for some districts’ first-ever “Vote Here” signs, extra poll workers and new tabs to replace devices that were over 100 years old – some of which were literally taped together.

In the absence of stable and regular federal funding, local election officials cannot budget for patching or replacing existing equipment, nor can they plan for the staffing and technology needed to build a safer and voter-centric office.

Now is the perfect time for Congress to fix this issue, catch up on DHS appointments, and prepare our local election officials for success.

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Public funding has lagged behind this critical issue for too long. A recent report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found: “[the] Current levels of spending put the elections at the bottom end of public service spending and around the same level as local government spending on maintaining parking facilities.”

Whatever happens to the Electoral Counts Act, state and local election officials need the resources to succeed. Congress should take the lead and fund just $20 billion over 10 years to make our voting systems safer and boost voter confidence in elections. It would be a fraction of the current cost of legislation being considered by both chambers.

Fortunately, there is bipartisan support for improving funding for local electoral bodies. New polls from Data for Progress show a clear majority of Americans — 74 percent — support investing in voting infrastructure. Among them are nearly three out of four Republicans polled.

A democracy literally held together with duct tape is a democracy in trouble. Despite the sad situation, in 2020 our local election officials conducted the safest, most accurate, and most inclusive elections ever. Let’s not ask them to repeat that feat this time without more resources — we need action from Congress to modernize our elections today.

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