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I Congressional Research Service
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August 8, 2019

Election Security: Federal Funding for Securing

Election Systems

Russia targeted state and local systems as part of its effort
to interfere with the 2016 elections, according to the U.S.
Intelligence Community. Reports of Russia's activities
highlighted the potential for threats to the technologies,
facilities, and processes used to administer elections.
Congress has responded to such threats, in part, by
providing and proposing funding to help secure elections.

This In Focus offers an overview of federal funding for
securing election systems. It starts with some background
on potential threats to state and local election systems and
then summarizes the funding Congress has provided and
proposed to help secure those systems.

Elections-related systems in all 50 states were likely
targeted in the 2016 election cycle, the Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) suggested in a July 2019
report. Some attempts to access state and local systems
succeeded. Russian actors reportedly extracted voter data
from the statewide voter registration database in one state,
for example, and breached county systems in another.

Multiple techniques were used to target state and local
election systems in the 2016 cycle. Attackers tried to access
voter registration databases by entering malicious code in
the data fields of state or local websites, for example, and to
obtain access to county systems by sending emails to
election officials with malware attached.

Election systems may also be vulnerable to other types of
attack. Hacked election office websites or social media
accounts might be used to disseminate misinformation, for
example. Malware might be spread among non-internet-
connected voting machines, computer scientist J. Alex
Halderman has testified, in the course of programming the
machines with ballot designs. Individuals with access to
election storage facilities might tamper with voting

Some threats to election systems may also be compounded
by the structure of U.S. election administration. States,
territories, and localities-which have primary
responsibility for conducting elections in the United
States-use different election equipment and processes and
have varying levels of access to security resources and
expertise. This decentralization may help guard against
large-scale, coordinated attacks, but it also offers potential
attackers multiple possible points of entry, some of which
may be less well defended than others.
Limited attacks on less well defended jurisdictions might
undermine voters' confidence in the legitimacy of the

   election process or the winners it produces. In some cases,
   some have suggested, such small-scale attacks might also
   be able to change election outcomes.

   Appropriated Funding
   States, territories, and localities have primary responsibility
   for ensuring that election systems are secure, but federal
   agencies also play a role in helping identify and address
   election system threats and vulnerabilities. Congress has
   provided election system security funding both to states,
   territories, and the District of Columbia (DC) and to federal
   agencies since the 2016 elections.

   Funding for States
   The FY2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 115-
   141) included $380 million for payments to the 50 states,
   DC, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S.
   Virgin Islands (referred to herein as states) under the
   Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA; 52 U.S.C.

   The FY2018 payments were appropriated under provisions
   of HAVA that authorize payments to states for general
   improvements to the administration of federal elections.
   The explanatory statement accompanying the FY2018 bill
   listed the following as acceptable uses of the funding:

   * replacing paperless voting machines,
   * conducting postelection audits,
   * addressing cyber vulnerabilities in election systems,
   * providing election officials with cybersecurity training,
   * instituting election system cybersecurity best practices,
   * making other improvements to the security of federal

   Each state was guaranteed a minimum payment under the
   FY2018 appropriations bill, with some eligible for
   additional funds based on voting-age population (see
   Figure 1). The 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico are required
   to provide a 5% match for the federal funds they receive,
   and all funding recipients were asked to submit their plans
   for the payments to the U.S. Election Assistance
   Commission (EAC) and report each year on how they
   spend their funds.

   According to the EAC, which is charged with administering
   the FY2018 HAVA payments, all of the available funds
   were requested by July 16, 2018, and disbursed to the states
   by September 20, 2018. States spent at least $108.14
   million of the $380 million total by the end of April 2019,
   the agency reported to the House Committee on House
   Administration in July 2019.
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