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Congress Authorizes Funds for Election Security

On March 23, Congress authorized the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) Election Security Fund as part of the federal omnibus appropriations bill. In total, $380 million in grants will be made available to states to improve the administration of elections for federal office, including enhancing technology and making election security improvements. Texas is expected to receive approximately $23.3 million in funds, which is conditioned on the state providing a 5 percent match of $1.2 million. 

States received notification letters from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in early April of the availability of the grant funds for election security. The EAC is encouraging all states to immediately draw down funds or begin drawing funds prior to submission of their grant requests so that they may use the funds for the 2018 elections, if possible. 

The EAC has given states 90 days from the date of receiving their grant notification to submit their narrative plans for the expenditure of funds. This will give states time to assess their local needs in developing a plan and budget.

States may use these funds for certain purposes, including the following:

  • Replace voting equipment that only records a voter's intent electronically with equipment that utilizes a voter verified paper record;
  • Implement a post-election audit system that provides a high level of confidence in the accuracy of the final vote tally;
  • Upgrade election­-related computer systems to address cyber vulnerabilities identified through the Department of Homeland Security, or similar scans or assessments of, existing election systems;
  • Facilitate cybersecurity training for the state chief election official's office and local election officials;
  • Implement established cybersecurity best practices for election systems; and
  • Fund other activities that will improve the security of elections for federal office.

There are currently five states (Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, New Jersey and Delaware) that use direct recording electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper audit trail. Other states, including Texas, use a variety of voting equipment that may or may not produce a paper trail. Some states that use a variety of voting machines are considering replacing their voting equipment with devices that will produce a paper audit trail. 

Texas counties are required to submit an annual voting systems report to the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) and describe the voting system used by the authority. According to the SOS, there are 48 counties that have replaced their voting equipment. For the remaining 206 counties, replacing their voting systems will require tremendous resources which many counties lack. While the federal security grant is not going to provide nearly enough for all counties to replace their voting equipment, it may provide some assistance for increasing their security in their voting infrastructure before the 2020 federal election.

The SOS is presently in the process of preparing the narrative and budget plan to submit to the EAC. It is not known at this time as to how the SOS will be allocating the federal grant funds to counties. However, TAC staff will continue to monitor and report on the distribution of these funds as more information becomes available.

Additional information about the HAVA Election Security Fund is available on the Election Assistance Commission website.