Executive Perspectives

Additional Resources Possible for Officials to Thwart Attacks During the 2020 Elections

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) may have up to $600 million to allocate to state and local elections officials to provide greater protections against cyber attacks during federal elections. Little progress has been made on providing full-year funding to federal agencies for FY 2020 and the entire federal government is operating under a Continuing Resolution until Nov. 21, but some progress has been made to provide funding to secure election infrastructure in FY 2020.

Congressional Action

The Senate Appropriations Committee included $250 million for election security assistance in its Financial Services and General Government spending bill for FY 2020 earlier this month, setting up negotiations with the House, which passed its version of the bill back in June, with $600 million for the assistance.

The House version of the bill directs the EAC to issue $600 million in election security grants to states for election officials’ efforts to improve security for federal elections. According to a report from the House Appropriations Committee, funds would be used to replace electronic voting machines with paper ballot systems; conduct post-election audits; maintain or update election-related computer systems – including voter registration systems – to address cyber vulnerabilities; facilitate cyber and risk mitigation training for state and local election officials; implement cybersecurity best practices for election systems; and perform other activities identified by EAC and DHS to improve overall election security.

Election security funding in the Senate bill was added at the last minute during its consideration of the measure on Sept. 19. A bipartisan amendment, offered by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Chris Coons (D-DE), provides $250 million for similar activities directed in the House bill. The full Senate needs to consider the spending bill before negotiations between the two Chambers can begin. Timing is still to be determined, though ideally this would occur before the CR expires in November.

Splitting the Difference

Oftentimes the House and Senate will take the average of two conflicting marks, which in this case could provide the EAC approximately $425 million for the grants for FY 2020. However, this amount could be lower, depending on how negotiations pan out between the two Chambers. In any case, this will be the latest influx of funds for the EAC to help states with their election security efforts. Congress provided $380 million in FY 2018 and no funding for the program in FY 2019.

Although no additional funding has been provided since FY 2018, funding is still available from that initial bucket of funds plus what’s been awarded to the states since the early 2000’s. According to the latest expenditures report from the EAC, about $40 million is still available for states to use to secure their election infrastructure.