States are now free to claim their shares of the hundreds of millions of dollars Congress set aside to secure election systems across the country. But for many states, getting their hands on the money – and deciding how to spend it – is easier said than done. In Minnesota, Secretary of State Steve Simon (D) told me he wants to use part of the $6.6 million in federal funds his state was awarded to hire three coders to immediately upgrade the state’s aging voter registration system. The clock is ticking: Minnesota was one of the 21 states that had election systems targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential race. With U.S. intelligence agencies warning the midterm elections are likely to be hit by another wave of cyberattacks, states are scrambling to secure their voting infrastructure by November. But Simon says he might not get the funds he needs in time. Under Minnesota law, only the Republican-controlled legislature can release that money — and local politics have left lawmakers in a stalemate over how to proceed. Right now, language to approve the funds is tucked in a spending bill the Democratic governor has threatened to veto for an array of unrelated issues.
Simon told me he’s worried that Minnesota might not find a way through the impasse before the legislative session ends this weekend, meaning the money could remain frozen until next year. What’s more, there’s a primary coming in August.
“All we need is a couple sentences from our state legislature allowing us to tap into those funds,” Simon told me. “Without that authorization, there will be $6.6 million dollars that’s available for our use just sitting there.”
Congress approved the $380 million to be distributed across all 50 states as part of the massive spending bill President Trump signed in March. The money was divvied up into shares for each state based on the size of their voting age populations.
To get a hold of the cash, states have to submit a written request — just a couple pages is enough — to the Election Assistance Commission, the agency that manages the money. Within 90 days, the states must submit a more detailed explanation of how they plan to spend it.