Under GOP Pressure, Congress Shortchanges Election Security

After long negotiations, Democrats agree on a figure that experts say is well over a billion dollars short.

Renee Jones Schneider/TNS via ZUMA Wire

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Congress will give states an additional $425 million in election security funding as part of the budget deal reached last week, adding a much needed, but still insufficient, boost to ballot security across the country.

The funds will be disbursed through the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency tasked with coordinating state and federal election administration. 

The $425 million is less than the $600 million House Democrats approved in June, but nearly $200 million more than the Senate Republicans’ offer, following the lead of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). McConnell, the senate majority leader, has steadfastly resisted expanding federal election security funding to aid cash-strapped states and local jurisdictions—even in his home state. After months of being accused of doing very little to stop foreign interference in elections, he relented in September, agreeing to a $250 million allocation.

The funding comes as part of an overall federal spending agreement that had been held up due to President Donald Trump’s push for money to build a border wall. Budget negotiators reportedly reached the deal last week, according to the Washington Post, which added that the House and Senate are expected to approve the deal this week. Trump will likely approve the deal, the Post reported, because it allows for some funding for his wall project.

In late November, as budget negotiations continued to drag out, a group of 38 senators wrote a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees urging the additional funding, along with an increased budget for the EAC. The budget deal announced Monday would increase EAC funding by $6 million to a total budget of $15.2 million. House Republicans have repeatedly tried to eliminate the agency, arguing that it is unnecessary and infringes on states’ control over elections; between 2010 and 2018 they cut its budget in half.

The $805 million is still well short of the estimated $2.2 billion needed to shore up election systems in the 10,000 voting jurisdictions around the country, many of which rely on dated or unsecure equipment. The experience of states that have worked to improve election security in the wake of the 2016 elections shows how expensive upgrading equipment can—just five states’ estimated investments totals more than $520 million:

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We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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