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Expert Brief

Proposed Election Infrastructure Spending

Where does the election security money in this week’s omnibus bill actually go?

  • Brennan Center for Justice
Published: March 22, 2018

Members of Congress are set to approve $380 million in this week’s omnibus spending bill to shore up our country’s outdated election infrastructure. As the Brennan Center has previously reported, some 13 states use voting machines that produce no auditable paper trail – crucial in rooting out irregularities or hacks. And five states use those paperless machines statewide.

Read our most recent update on those national numbers here.

The Brennan Center has long said it would cost roughly $380 million to replace the country’s outmoded voting machines. But in the draft omnibus appropriations bill, the money will be doled out according to a formula laid out in the 2002 Help America Vote Act. That means some states will receive sufficient funds to replace everything, while others will only have enough for partial replacement.

The Brennan Center has crunched the numbers in partnership with Verified Voting and projects each state will likely receive the following allocations. We’ll be updating this data as we conduct additional analysis.

* These numbers have been updated since the morning of March 23 after consultation with the Election Assistance Commission as to how they will apply the HAVA formula.

Under the Help America Vote Act, the amount of money each state receives from the full pot is allocated based on population. That means that of the 13 states that have machines with no paper trail (referred to as “Paperless DREs” or director-recording electronic voting machines), only two are eligible to receive enough funds to fully replace them. The other 11 states will receive the equivalent of down payment to replace older models with newer machines that read voter marked paper ballots. It’s worth noting: states are under no obligation to spend whatever money they receive on new equipment. They could choose to spend it on cybersecurity scans or other security improvements.

Here’s a chart with an estimate of how much it should cost the 13 states to replace paperless machines with ballot marking devices (which allow people to fill out a paper ballot without using a pen or pencil) and optical scan systems (which read paper ballots), and how much of that total could be covered by the money in the omnibus bill, if states choose to spend it on new machines.

* These numbers have been updated since the morning of March 23 after consultation with the Election Assistance Commission as to how they will apply the HAVA formula. 

In short, the money Congress is putting aside should strengthen our nation’s voting infrastructure, making elections more secure. But we still have a ways to go until our entire election system is secure.

Read more about America’s outdated voting machines here, and steps that we can take to secure our elections from foreign interference here. And click here to see our full analysis with Verified Voting.

*Please note that our estimates reflect hardware costs, and some states have estimates that are much higher (that include paying for things like software licensing and maintenance). Based on our review of contracts and other public information, our high estimate assumes a replacement cost of $10,000 for one optical scan and one ballot marking device per precinct.