With the 2018 midterm elections quickly approaching, counties across the country are preparing to administer the next federal election cycle. In the United States, the nation’s 3,069 counties traditionally administer and fund elections at the local level, overseeing more than 109,000 polling places and coordinating more than 694,000 poll workers every two years. The FY 2018 omnibus package – signed into law by President Trump on March 23 – included significant support for elections administration and security.
First, the FY 2018 bill included $10.1 million in base funding for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a $500,000 increase over FY 2017 levels. The EAC is an independent, bipartisan commission charged with developing guidance to help jurisdictions meet requirements established under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. Other EAC duties include establishing voluntary voting system guidelines, serving as a national clearinghouse of information on election administration, certifying voting systems and auditing the use of HAVA funds.
In addition to the EAC funding, the omnibus package designated $380 million in Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds to states for “election security improvements,” including enhancing “election technology.” The legislation directs the EAC to distribute this funding within 45 days of the act being signed into law, which will be on or near May 7, 2018. The appropriations bill does require a five percent federal fund matching requirement from states, which must be made available no later than two years after a state is awarded the grant. Click here to see how much money your state will receive in election security funding.
Accompanying language to the omnibus says states can use these new funds to replace electronic voting equipment with a voter-verified paper ballot system; facilitate cybersecurity training for both state and local election officials; implement an audit system to ensure an accurate post-election final vote tally; and upgrade computer systems to address cyber vulnerabilities. NACo encourages counties to coordinate with their state chief election official to ensure counties can access these funds and use them to update vulnerable election systems.
After the 2000 elections, Congress passed HAVA to improve the election process by promoting the latest technology and moving away from traditional lever machines. Today, approximately three out of every five counties use optical-scan technology, which employs a scanner to read marked paper ballots and record the results. Two out of five use direct-recording electronic (DRE) equipment that allows voters to make their selections via touch screen or other digital interface and records the results on a memory device. The transport and storage of voting machines, as well as ballots and vote tabulations, are directed by state and local protocols. While methods and technologies vary by county, local jurisdictions understand specific technology and security needs to safeguard administration of federal elections.
NACo supports continued funding for the EAC and appreciates the role the EAC plays in coordinating collaborative efforts among local, state and federal government officials in addressing issues from the accessibility of polling places to the cybersecurity of voting equipment and voter registration databases. NACo will continue working with federal lawmakers to ensure counties’ role in administering elections is recognized and supported in any future legislation ensuring safe and fair elections.