Senate Committee Allocates $250 Million To Bolster State Election Security

Senate Committee Allocates $250 Million To Bolster State Election Security

The fight over increased funding for election security is far from over, though: The House and Senate still need to agree on a number for the final version of the bill.

After facing pressure from Democrats concerned about the security of American election systems, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $250 million in funds to help states improve election security on Thursday.

The allocation came as part of the annual 2020 Financial Services and General Government funding bill, The Hill reported. The amendment was co-sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who has previously been reluctant to pass more legislation related to election security. He and other Republicans have said that Congress should not be involved in “federalizing” state-run elections.

“The Trump administration has made enormous strides to help states security their elections without giving Washington new power to push the states around,” McConnell said on Thursday. “That’s how we continued the progress we saw in 2018, and that’s exactly what we’re doing."

Funds will be distributed to states by the Election Assistance Commission within 45 days of the funding bill being signed into law. According to the amendment, states are also required to provide a 5 percent match to the federal funds within two years.

In the House version of the funding bill, states would receive $600 million through the EAC for security measures. The two chambers still need to come together to agree on a final amount.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) called the funds a “step in the right direction” in a statement.

“It is significant that Sen. McConnell and Republicans have finally backed down and acknowledged the Senate must act to secure our elections from foreign interference,” Schumer said, adding that the Senate appropriation will make it easier for Democrats to argue for higher funding levels in negotiations between the chambers.

Last year, the EAC distributed $380 million to states for election security, mostly to update outdated voting machines and improve cybersecurity measures. Though they did not oppose the new funding, some Senate Republicans said there needs to be more oversight of how state election officials spend the money.

“We are just handing states money, and they are glad to take it, but we are not even requiring that they spend it at this point,” said Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma.

He added that states have only spent $128 million of the $380 million appropriated last year, according to the latest data released by Congress.

Lankford and fellow Republicans were not the only ones to express concerns. Sen. Ron Wyden, who has led the charge for better cybersecurity practices in election systems, called the Senate proposal “a joke.”

"This amendment doesn't even require the funding be spent on election security — it can go for anything related to elections,” Wyden said. “Giving states taxpayer money to buy hackable, paperless machines or systems with poor cybersecurity is a waste."

And it’s likely the fight over election security before the 2020 elections is far from over. Schumer’s office said in a statement that “Senate Democrats believe this new funding is not a substitute for passing the comprehensive bipartisan election security legislation that experts say is desperately needed.”

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