Federal grant funding cut for local elections criticized by advocates
WASHINGTON — The $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last week includes $75 million in Help America Vote Act grants — a major cut from previous years.
Experts say the $75 million is insufficient to fund local elections and leaves local election offices without resources to improve election infrastructure and protect election security.
Although Congress has funded local elections only three times since 2010, the $75 million in the latest spending bill is a far cry from the $53 billion over 10 years that election security experts say is needed. It is also much less than the $500 million proposed by the House in its original spending proposal.
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“It’s always great to see Congress provide resources to state and local election officials and truly recognize their responsibility to help fund elections, but $75 million is way below what’s needed right now. to really secure and protect our election infrastructure,” said Derek Tisler. , democracy program attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“It’s also considerably less than the funding we’ve seen in recent years leading up to the 2020 election.”
In 2018 and 2020 respectively, Congress approved $380 million and $425 million in HAVA Election Security Fund states to improve the administration of elections for federal offices.
But Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said that while the spending bill was down from previous years, she still considered it a victory.
“The House bill proposed to restore funding for the Election Security Grant, a priority for House Democrats, after it received no funding last year,” the Connecticut Democrat said. in a press release. “With slim margins in both chambers, passage of the final federal spending package hinged on our ability to reach agreements. This transformative federal spending program — including this new $75 million in election security grants — is a victory.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Congress also appropriated $400 million for emergency election financing under the CARES Act.
The United States Election Assistance Commission Explain that the funding could be used to protect the health and safety of poll workers, staff and voters in federal elections, including purchasing cleaning supplies and protective masks and hiring the necessary staff to process a number increased mail-in ballots.
Although the pandemic is not yet over and many parts of the country may have to administer elections this year while continuing to see high case rates, the latest spending bill from Congress does not finance President Joe Biden’s plan to continue to fight COVID-19 and prepare for future variations, he also does not allocate money specifically to administer an election during this unusual time.
Voters in many states also expect some amenities that debuted in the 2020 elections as a result of the pandemic, such as increased mail-in voting options, and election officials will need money to ensure they don’t have to eliminate them.
“To the extent that these things were temporary in 2020, many states are now looking to make them permanent and to make them better and more efficient for voters, and that takes a lot of resources,” Tisler said.
Understaffed, low throughput
Following the 2020 election, the Center for Secure and Modern Elections and the Center for Tech and Civic Life spoke with local election departments about the challenges they faced due to lack of local election administration funding.
Tiana Epps-Johnson, executive director of the Center for Tech and Civic Life, said she’s heard of departments that can’t hire the right staff or afford facilities to process ballots, or have access Broadband so poor that they have trouble downloading basic files from the state.
“Hearing these stories coming out of 2020, it’s become really, really clear that one of the most, if not the most important things we can do as a country to support the integrity of our elections, is to ensure that local election services in each community have the funding they need to be able to predictably and reliably provide a smooth process for voters,” she said.
In partnership with local election officials, the groups formed the Election Infrastructure Initiative and began advocating for increased election funding to improve the physical and technological infrastructure behind elections.
When we learned of the level of funding that was included in the omnibus budget of only $75 million for electoral service grants, we were really disappointed because that is far from the magnitude of the investment required for the electoral services do their basic tasks and critical work.
– Tiana Epps-Johnson, executive director of the Center for Tech and Civic Life
In December, the initiative published a report finding that state and local election services need more than $53 billion over 10 years. “Given that elections are funded in a way that requires local, state and federal resources, we are calling on Congress to do its part and contribute $20 billion of the $53 billion needed,” Epps said. Johnson.
“When we learned of the level of funding included in the omnibus budget of just $75 million for electoral services grants, we were truly disappointed as this falls far short of the scale of investment needed for electoral services to do their basic work. and critical work,” she added.
In December, 14 Democratic election officials from states across the country wrote a letter to Biden asking him to include $5 billion for election infrastructure in his fiscal year 2023 budget.
“The security and integrity of elections is a vital cornerstone of our democracy,” they wrote. “But because of years of underinvestment by the federal government, too many voters and election workers are struggling with an election infrastructure that has reached the end of its lifespan.”
Aging voting machines
A recent Brennan Center and Verified Voting Analysis found that it will cost about half a billion dollars over the next five years to replace voting equipment that is more than 10 years old, and experts say voting machines should be replaced about every 10 years , because that’s when they become more vulnerable to security issues and more difficult to maintain.
Funding federal elections ahead of the next presidential election is especially important to ensure adequate staffing levels at a time when 1 in 5 local election workers say they are are considering quitting their job before the 2024 elections.
“Getting more funding and resources could definitely make their jobs easier and more comfortable in their jobs,” Tisler said, noting that officials could invest in security and training to defend against the growing threats facing them. they have faced as election officials since 2020.
There is also bipartisan interest in improving electoral infrastructure. A February poll from the left-leaning group Data for Progress found that 74% of voters support congressional funding for state and local governments to upgrade voting equipment and security systems.
“Our latest poll finds that a majority of voters overall support investing in election infrastructure and want our federal government to invest in ensuring their voices are heard and their votes are secure on Election Day. elections,” said Sean McElwee, executive director of Data for Progress. “It’s time for Congress to do something about this.”
Although the next high-turnout presidential election is still more than two years away, experts said now is the time to invest in infrastructure such as new voting equipment.
Tisler said election officials typically work on a two-year schedule because it takes time to assess their needs, go through a bidding process, source materials and implement them at a time that doesn’t. It’s not a high turnout election.
“If you want to make a difference for the 2024 election, now is the time to invest money,” he said.
Jennifer Shutt of the US Newsroom Office in Washington contributed to this report.