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Estimated Costs for Protecting Election Infrastructure Against Insider Threats

We estimate that the nationwide five-year cost for basic security measures is approximately $316 million dollars.

To view our break­­­down of cost estim­ates, click here.

Last Decem­ber, the Bren­nan Center published an analysis of insider threats to our elec­tion system. Put simply, these are threats to the integ­rity of the elec­tion system from the very work­ers we entrust with running it.

Elec­tion work­ers are frequently the unsung heroes of Amer­ican demo­cracy. This was espe­cially in 2020, when elec­tion work­ers from both parties stood up to polit­ical pres­sure and threats to their safety to ensure that all eligible Amer­ic­ans could vote and have their votes coun­ted. But today, there is wide­spread agree­ment among many of those elec­tion work­ers that we should do more to defend against the risk of insider threats and provide more assur­ance to the public that our elec­tions will remain free and fair.

In the last few weeks, we’ve spoken to elec­tion offi­cials who iden­ti­fied several steps for deter­ring insider threats and increas­ing confid­ence in elec­tion processes and results. The recom­mend­a­tions include restrict­ing access to elec­tion systems to those who need access to perform offi­cial respons­ib­il­it­ies, and only to the extent those respons­ib­il­it­ies require it; installing track­ing devices on phys­ical objects such as records, voting machines, and ballots to keep track of those items at all times; and estab­lish­ing trans­par­ent proced­ures and monit­or­ing for inap­pro­pri­ate activ­ity through camera surveil­lance.

As detailed below, we estim­ate the nation­wide five-year cost for these basic secur­ity meas­ures to be a net total of approx­im­ately $316 million.  (Our national estim­ate is based on typical costs and elec­tion office needs; the actual cost — for larger juris­dic­tions in partic­u­lar — may vary consid­er­ably based on the size of the office and staff as well as the secur­ity systems already in place). This, in addi­tion to the estim­ated costs of other elec­tion secur­ity items that the Bren­nan Center previ­ously calcu­lated, would amount to well over $2 billion.

Restrict­ing Access

Total cost for five years: $75 million

It is best prac­tice to ensure that only indi­vidu­als who need to have access to crit­ical elec­tion systems, such as voting machines or elec­tion manage­ment systems, are permit­ted that access. A key card access control system can help ensure that only people who should have access to a secure area can access that area and that there is a log of every instance in which someone enters a secure area. Key card read­ers are recom­men­ded for areas that store voting equip­ment and other crit­ical elec­tion infra­struc­ture.

Based on aver­age industry prices for such access control systems, we estim­ate it would cost $75.2 million over five years to install and main­tain such systems nation­wide.

Phys­ical Asset Track­ing Systems

Total cost for five years: $197 million

Phys­ical asset track­ing systems provide inform­a­tion to elec­tion offi­cials on the loca­tion and move­ment of import­ant equip­ment and mater­i­als, provid­ing assur­ance that these resources are not tampered with or moved along an unex­pec­ted course. Elec­tion offi­cials can use such systems to track the move­ment of ballots, equip­ment, and mater­i­als to and from polling places, monitor ballot drop boxes to see pick-ups and detect tamper­ing, and check that all voting equip­ment remains in a secure loca­tion whenever not in use.

$196.7 million would provide enough money for one asset tag for each precinct and voting machine in the coun­try plus five years of service and access to the track­ing plat­form for each tag.  This is a conser­vat­ive estim­ate of the need for this product nation­ally, given the amount of crit­ical equip­ment and mater­i­als that offi­cials must monitor every elec­tion. For example, this estim­ate does not include asset tags for ballot drop boxes and elec­tronic poll­books. There have been incid­ents of indi­vidu­als steal­ing the latter equip­ment.   

Camera Surveil­lance

Total cost for five years: $27 million

Video surveil­lance helped offi­cials in Color­ado determ­ine that unau­thor­ized persons were given access to voting systems in one Color­ado county. All elec­­tion offices should be equipped with cameras and require 24-hour surveil­lance of voting machines, computers, and ballots, which can be reviewed and compared to access logs in the event of unau­thor­­ized activ­ity. Where possible, that foot­age should be stored for at least two years. Fund­ing of $27 million would provide each elec­tion juris­dic­tion in the United States with 2 to 10 cameras (depend­ing on size and need of the juris­dic­tion) plus cloud stor­age for video.

Voter Regis­tra­tion and Elec­tion Manage­ment System Access Controls

Total cost estim­ate for five years: $17 million

Elec­tion offices should create unique, secure accounts for each indi­vidual author­ized to access elec­tion systems and ensure that each entry into such systems can be tied to the specific author­ized staff. Basic secur­ity meas­ures should bolster these accounts, includ­ing endpoint encryp­tion and multi-factor authen­tic­a­tion. These services would cost an estim­ated $16.7 million nation­wide, though costs may vary signi­fic­antly based on state tech­no­logy, and many juris­dic­tions would require addi­tional ongo­ing IT support to main­tain these services.