New Election Security Funds are Breakthrough for Democracy

March 23, 2018

New York, N.Y. – The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law today welcomed news that Congress has set aside $380 million to shore up the nation's aging election infrastructure. The Brennan Center has long advocated for replacing outmoded machines and computers vulnerable to hacking or malfunction as a way of securing our democracy.

"With so much infighting on Capitol Hill, this is a breakthrough for election security and the health of our country's democracy," said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center's democracy program. "Dozens of states are struggling to keep old equipment up to date, and this infusion of cash from Congress is an important down payment on securing our elections, and instilling confidence among the public that their votes will be accurately, securely counted."

The Brennan Center estimates that this fall some 41 states will use balloting machines more than a decade old. The Center has reported that state election officials have resorted to buying spare parts on eBay, and some rely on computers running outdated software like Windows 2000 to manage elections and voter registration.

The Brennan Center has previously advocated for roughly $400 million to replace the nation's most insecure voting machines, and has worked with lawmakers and voting technology experts to press for these funds to be appropriated by Congress. But in a new analysis conducted by the Brennan Center and Verified Voting, the groups found that because of the way the omnibus funds will be allocated, they will still be insufficient to replace all the country’s most insecure paperless systems that are impossible to audit to ensure accuracy.

"Thirteen states use these types of non-auditable systems – five statewide – and while some states will receive sufficient funds to replace them, most will only get only a fraction of the necessary funds," said the Brennan Center's Norden. "So while there is much to celebrate today, tomorrow the campaign to secure our elections continues."

The Brennan/Verified Voting analysis looks at the replacement cost for what are known as paperless DREs (or direct-recording electronic voting machines). These machines produce no auditable paper ballot, so they are nearly impossible to audit if a system breaks down or malfunctions. The Brennan/Verified Voting analysis then takes the funding allocation formula in the omnibus to estimate how much these new funds will allow states to replace these vulnerable machines.

Of the 13 states that use paperless DREs, the new funds will not allow full replacement in at least 11 of those states.

Note: our estimates are lower than some state-specific estimates. Replacement costs here are based on equipment, not on maintenance or software licensing.

* 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.

For more information, read our full analysis here.

Read about all our work on election security and infrastructure here.

For more information or to connect with a Brennan Center expert, contact Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu or 646-292-8316.