States will receive $425 million in election grants to improve cybersecurity as part of a new federal spending deal hammered out by members of the House and Senate, according to multiple reports.
The election security funding segment is part of a massive $1.4 trillion appropriations package unveiled on December 16 and expected to be signed into law by the end of this week. It requires states to match 20 percent of the federal funds. Ultimately, state election officials will end up with about $500 million to improve their cybersecurity profile.
The deal, which represents the middle ground between amounts separately offered by the House and Senate earlier this year, will be delivered through the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). House Democrats had originally hoped for $600 million, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) indicated earlier this year he would support $250 million. In mid-2018, Congress allocated some $380 million to improve election security via grants to the states.
Specific wording for how the funds will be allocated has been a point of contention in the House and Senate, with the lower chamber requiring states to use the money for specific election security improvements and the upper chamber preferring a broader use of the funds. The final deal is said to use language from the Senate version, which allows the money to go to improving the administration of elections for federal office and election security upgrades.
By no means is the spending deal a done deal. Democrats are expected to keep the pressure on McConnell for additional election security improvements such as paper ballots and post-election audits, modernizing efforts which he has consistently waved off. However, it is the lack of system upgrades to legacy machinery that leave election infrastructures across the country vulnerable to foreign attackers that could strike in the 2020 elections.
“Mitch McConnell refused to agree to safeguards for how this funding is spent, which means state and local governments will continue buying machines with major security problems,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has called for strict security mandates on states. “Until Congress takes steps to secure the entire election system, our democracy will continue to be vulnerable to foreign interference.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) applauded the new funding on Twitter, but warned it is “*not* a substitute for passing election security reform legislation that Senate GOP leadership has been blocking all year.”