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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Members of Congress are set to approve $380 million in this week’s omni­bus spend­ing bill to shore up our coun­try’s outdated elec­tion infra­struc­ture.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.