What would it cost to protect the nation’s voting systems from attack? About $400 million would go a long way, say cybersecurity experts. It’s not a lot of money when it comes to national defense — the Pentagon spent more than that last year on military bands alone — but getting funds for election systems is always a struggle. At a Senate intelligence committee hearing last week about Russian hacking during last year’s election, Jeanette Manfra , the acting deputy under secretary for cybersecurity at the Department Homeland Security recommended that election officials have a paper-based audit process to identify anomalies after an election. While that’s the advice most cybersecurity experts give, right now more than a dozen states use electronic voting machines that have no paper backup. Replacing those machines would go a long way toward protecting one of the core functions of democracy, says Larry Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice in New York. “I don’t think that would cost a huge amount of money. I think it would probably cost between $200 million and $300 million to replace that equipment,” adding that $400 million is his top estimate.
But try finding the money. Congress provided $3 billion to help states replace their punch card machines after the 2000 presidential election but since then, funds have been scarce.
A $30 million plan in Arkansas to replace voting equipment, including paperless touchscreen machines, has been left unfunded. Two years ago, Virginia lawmakers rejected Governor Terry McAuliffe’s request for $28 million to upgrade that state’s voting machines, some of which are also paperless.
In Ohio, officials say their voting system is secure, but would be even more secure if they can replace their aging equipment before the 2020 presidential election. Timothy Ward, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials and election director in Madison County, says as in most of the nation, Ohio’s voting machines are more than a decade old.