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                                                                                            Updated March 12, 2020

Election Security: Federal Funding for Securing Election


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, according to a July 2019
report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Some attempts to access state and local systems succeeded.
Russian actors reportedly extracted 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
gain access to county systems by sending election officials
emails 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 disinformation, 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 ballot boxes.

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 capable of changing election outcomes.

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.

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The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141)
and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-
93) included $380 million and $425 million, respectively,
for payments to states, territories, and DC under the Help
America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA; 52 U.S.C. §§20901-
21145). Both sets of payments were available to the 50
states, DC, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the
U.S. Virgin Islands (generally referred to hereinafter as
states), and the FY2020 funds were also available to the
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

Funding for the payments was appropriated under
provisions of HAVA that authorize programs to provide
payments to states for general improvements to the
administration of federal elections. Explanatory statements
accompanying the appropriations bills listed the following
as acceptable uses of the funds:

* 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 eligible recipient was guaranteed a minimum payment
under each appropriations bill, with some recipients eligible
for additional funds based on voting-age population (see
Table 1 for the total amount available to each eligible
recipient for both fiscal years). The 50 states, DC, and
Puerto Rico are required to provide 5% and 20% matches,
respectively, for the FY2018 and FY2020 funds. All
funding recipients are expected to submit plans for use of
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 payments, all available FY2018 funds were requested

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