During the 2016 presidential election, Russian hackers targeted election systems in Pennsylvania and 20 other states, according to U.S. intelligence officials. Those officials fear that, during the 2018 midterms, hackers may target state voter registration databases, county websites and official social media accounts to spread misinformation and sow doubt in the U.S. election system. In February, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, directed all counties that are planning to update aging election equipment to buy machines that create a paper trail. However, the directive from Wolf, aimed at machines used by 83 percent of the state’s voters, did not come with funding attached, placing the financial burden on federal or local budgets.
It could cost as much as $79 million to replace paperless machines in Pennsylvania, the Brennan Center estimates. With the Trump-signed spending bill, the state is only expected to receive $13.5 million, covering just 17 percent of the estimated costs. Barring a new proposal at the state level, counties would have to foot the rest of the bill.
“If they want to make any real dent in the cost to replace an election system,” Greenburg said, “this is woefully insufficient.”
His county of 72,000 mostly middle-class registered voters in eastern Pennsylvania uses paperless voting machines, which officials there purchased in 2006. Replacing its current voting machines would cost between $750,000 and $2.5 million, depending on the type of equipment — a hefty bill for a county like his, Greenburg said.