Election Officials Plead for Federal Cybersecurity Funding

Governance & Risk Management
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Local Election Offices Face Critical Lack of Cyber Resources, Officials Warn

Election Officials Plead for Federal Cybersecurity Funding
State and local election officials told the U.S. Senate they’re underfunded for cybersecurity. (Image: Shutterstock)

Local election officials and security experts implored the U.S. Congress to provide additional funding for enhanced cybersecurity measures ahead of the next voting cycle, warning of major resource constraints that stand to threaten election security nationwide.

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Secretaries of state and election administrators from Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Tennessee testified Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. Election systems are underfunded and face emerging cybersecurity threats across the country, in addition to inadequate physical security measures and outdated voting equipment, they said.

“As time passes, so does the need for continued advancement in cybersecurity,” said Alan Farley, an election administrator in Tennessee, noting that many counties throughout his state lack adequate funding for their IT departments. “If you truly want to secure elections in our nation, invest federal dollars in building a stronger information technology structure at the local level.”

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has offset the burden on local election offices to fund critical cybersecurity measures with no-cost initiatives, including its toolkit of free services and tools for state and local election officials, physical security assessments and cyber hygiene scans.

“I implore you to ensure the vital election security services provided by CISA’s physical security and cybersecurity agents survive any potential issues when it comes to negotiating the federal budget,” said Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes. He also called on Congress to designate CISA’s physical and cybersecurity agents as “critical” employees, ensuring that they continue to report for duty in the event of a government shutdown. Congress has currently funded federal agencies through Nov. 17. CISA officials perform “the essential work necessary to maintain the critical infrastructure of election administration.”

States have demanded increased federal funding to support election infrastructure security for years, while calling on Congress to establish new federal cybersecurity and audit standards for voting equipment and to provide local grants to support the replacement of outdated technologies.

Elizabeth Howard, deputy director of the elections and government program at the NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, testified that election administrators are tasked with confronting “a spectrum of pressing demands that require resources,” including cybersecurity threats and the need to harden voter registration systems.

The Brennan Center has estimated that protecting against insider threats for election cycles would cost approximately $300 million over the next five years, in addition to $600 million to replace aging and outdated voting machines.