This is where federal funding can make all the difference.
“The emergence of cyber threats to election systems requires resources state and local governments may not sustain alone. Election security is equated with national security. Common nation-wide threats justify federal assistance in funding individual state efforts to prevent and defend against cyber threats,” notes the National Association of Secretaries of State in its Resolution on Principles for Federal Assistance in Funding of Elections.
HAVA, enacted in 2002, provides funding to states to enhance election technology and improve election security for federal elections. Funding varies by state according to the size of their populations. The 2018 HAVA grant allocated $380 million, which some states are still dispersing.6 In addition to this existing funding, states have $425 million in HAVA funds available for 2020. States also can use this 2020 funding to cover certain allowable election costs related to COVID-19.7
The CARES Act has made $400 million in funds available. These funds have already been allocated to states based on their population size and must be used “to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, for the 2020 federal election cycle.”8 Together, there is more than $825 million in funding currently available, with potentially more funding on the way as Congress prepares another stimulus package. Both HAVA and CARES Act funding are available to help states facilitate safe and secure elections. However, both funding sources come with rules that leaders need to be aware of as they leverage these funding streams. For 2020 HAVA funds, states must match the allocation they receive by 20 percent within two years and use the funds within five years. States had to submit a budget and narrative about how they planned to use funds by April 27, 2020, but if your state hasn’t yet done this, you can contact the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) for additional guidance. CARES Act funding also requires a 20 percent match and is available through December 31, 2020.9 States must report their expenditures within 20 days of use and unused funds must be returned to the Treasury Department.
The EAC has guidelines for how states can use these funds and states will be subject to annual reporting requirements to ensure proper use. CARES Act funding, for example, can be used on “cleaning supplies and protective masks for staff and poll workers, resources to meet an unanticipated increased demand for mail ballots due to self-isolation and quarantine in response to COVID-19, and temporary staff to process the increased absentee ballot demand.”10 This funding also can be used for additional electronic equipment and connectivity that states need to keep voters and poll workers safe due to the pandemic, such as creating new pop-up sites for social distancing, additional cell phones for workers or cellular signal boosting for areas that have poor coverage.11
Funding request letters that some states submitted to EAC indicate municipalities have diverse needs. For example, Alabama plans to use its $8.2 million to upgrade voting equipment, secure check-in protocols on Election Day through the provisioning of electronic poll books, and leverage GIS software to help voter registrars ensure voter rolls are accurate and up to date.12 California plans to use its $46.4 million award for technical and security enhancements, security training, infrastructure needs, equipment costs and polling place administration.13
These funding requests indicate that many states are laser-focused on cybersecurity as they prepare for November.