The U.S. needs hundreds of millions of dollars to protect future elections from hackers — but neither the states nor Congress is rushing to fill the gap. Instead, a nation still squabbling over the role Russian cyberattacks played in the 2016 presidential campaign is fractured about how to pay for the steps needed to prevent repeats in 2018 and 2020, according to interviews with dozens of state election officials, federal lawmakers, current and former Department of Homeland Security staffers and leading election security experts. These people agree that digital meddlers threaten the public’s confidence in America’s democratic process. And nearly everyone believes that the danger calls for collective action — from replacing the voting equipment at tens of thousands of polling places to strengthening state voter databases, training election workers and systematically conducting post-election audits. But those steps would require major spending, and only a handful of states’ legislatures are boosting their election security budgets, according to a POLITICO survey of state election agencies. And leaders in Congress are showing no eagerness to help them out.
“States ought to get their own money up,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, which oversees federal elections. “We’re borrowing money. We got a big debt limit coming up.”
In fact, some in the Capitol are trying to defund the 15-year-old federal agency that helps states and counties administer elections. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which has three full-time staffers examining elections, would also see budget cuts in the pending congressional spending bills.
“We just don’t fund elections,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, who co-wrote a recent report on digitally securing America’s elections. “Nobody’s really sure who’s responsible for this.”