State election officials want the latest round of election security money included in a major bill proposed by House Democrats – but they’re divided on whether they want to accept a slew of voting mandates that come along with it. The divide is largely along partisan lines. On one side, there’s Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R), the incoming president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, who balked at provisions in H.R. 1 that make it more difficult for states to impose voter ID requirements. Pate said in an email the For the People Act amounts to the federal government seizing authority over elections from states. On the other side are Democrats who largely support those efforts to expand voter access and consider them a fair trade for more election security money. “There’s a tension over H.R. 1 and whether or not it’s a federalization of elections,” one Democratic secretary of state told me at the NASS conference in Washington this weekend. “It is not. And anyone who claims that it is, that’s an overreach.”
House Democrats are eager to take on election security now that they are in the majority — and included $120 million in their first bill of the session for states to upgrade outdated and vulnerable voting machines. Yet in the same bill they are also pushing voting priorities favored by Democrats and opposed by Republicans — such as expanding automatic voter registration, restoring felons voting rights and making Election Day a national holiday. A divide among state officials, whose support is actually needed to implement the changes, underscores how the broader, partisan debate over the election priorities in the bill could make it harder to pass the much-needed security fixes.
The bill also includes other mandates more specific to election security — including that states audit election results for signs of hacking and that those new machines use paper ballots rather than digital ones. These have also been controversial on their own among state officials — most notably in Georgia — who don’t like the federal government limiting their options.