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Election security gets a bump in appropriations

The Department of Homeland Security's top cyber agency stands to get a $335 million budget bump over last year's funding, if the House Appropriations Committee has its way.  

The increase includes $24 million in additional funding for Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency's election security initiative, including increased coordination between the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center and National Guard units with cybersecurity experience to support training, risk assessments and incident response needs for state and local governments. The committee's report on the bill notes that NCCIC is currently grappling with a 12-month backlog for requested vulnerability assessments.

CISA officials have said they plan to expand outreach efforts to local governments, noting that while DHS was able to establish working relationships and provide election security-related services to all 50 states and more than 1,000 localities in the lead up to 2018, there remain thousands of counties, precincts and jurisdictions that still need help. A manager's amendment adopted during markup would also allocate $10 million to fund the deployment of cyber advisors deployed to state and local governments.

"In 2016, this nation's fundamental democratic system of free and fair elections was violated," said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio). "That was just a taste of what is to come if we do not focus needed resources and attention to the vulnerabilities of current election equipment and personnel."

Meanwhile, the Financial Services and General Government appropriation that passed committee June 11 offers the Election Assistance Commission a bump from $10 million to $16.2 million, and adds hundreds of millions of dollars in new grants for states to replace out of date election equipment. EAC officials have pleaded with Congress to increase their budget, saying cuts over the past decade have slashed the agency’s workforce in half from nearly 50 in 2009 to less than 25 this year while also slowing down vital work testing and certifying voting machines.

The new $600 election security grant program would require states to prioritize the replacement of paperless Direct Recording Electronic voting machines with systems that have a hand-marked, voter-verified paper trail. States must also submit a certification to the EAC that they have a plan to replace all DRE machines in the state to be eligible.

A version of this article was first posted on FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a former senior staff writer at FCW.

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