States across the country are in the process of receiving grants from the federal government to secure their voting systems. Earlier this year Congress approved $380 million in grants for states to improve election technology and “make certain election security improvements.” But how states use that money is up to them. In Texas, officials say they want to use the bulk of their grant to secure the state’s voter registration database. According to federal officials, Russians tried to hack a Texas election website in 2016. Dana Debeauvoir, who runs elections in Austin, Texas, as the Travis County clerk, says running elections has become increasingly more expensive and technologically complicated. She says she cast her first ballot on a lever machine — a big metal box with a bunch of tiny metal handles voters crank to select the candidate of their choice. These machines, and others, were banned by Congress when lawmakers passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002. “So they are now no longer used — also right along with punch card voting,” Debeauvoir says.
After problems with voting machines and methods marred the 2000 election, lawmakers decided to help states avoid similar problems in the future.
The legislation they passed, which is also known as HAVA, set aside $3 billion in grants for states to replace their old voting machines.
Congress decided to draw down funds through HAVA again this year following reports of Russian interference in the 2016 election. However, this time lawmakers are spending about a tenth of what they did the last time.
“It is utterly inappropriate and completely insignificant amount when you look at the need,” Debeauvoir says. “It’s a 10-cent solution to a $25 problem.”
Texas is getting about $23 million for election security this year. By comparison, the state received about $200 million in the 2000s.
Congressional Democrats recently tried and failed to insert an additional $250 million for election security in spending bills.