By: Chelsea West
The November 6th midterm elections will soon be upon us and U.S. voters are preparing to go to the polls. Federal, state, and local officials are preparing as well. While voters are debating which candidates to elect, government officials are rigorously working to beef up election security. They intend to do all they can to make sure everyone who is eligible has the opportunity to cast a ballot and that those votes are counted correctly.
Election security is on the forefront of conversation regarding the upcoming November elections. There exist many fears among U.S. intelligence and security officials over possible hacking or cyber-attacks. These fears increased after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security both accused Russia of orchestrating an operation to hack into the emails of U.S. political organizations and selectively release them to the public.
In response to these threats, the Trump administration signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 into law. The act included $380 million in grants for states to improve the administration of elections for federal office. This includes enhancing technology and making certain election security improvements. The 2018 HAVA Election Security Fund is authorized under Title I Section 101 of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. The intention of this funding is to provide states with additional resources to secure and improve election systems.
Virginia successfully applied for and was awarded $9 million in funding in June 2018 from the federal government. The Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission reported that under HAVA, Virginia will allocate these funds between VERIS (the Virginia Election and Registration Information System, the state’s centralized elections IT system), local voting equipment, and other state and local elections security initiatives at the state’s discretion.
These funds were awarded to enhance election technology and make election security improvements. States had the express permission from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to pay for immediate election administration improvements ahead of the 2018 elections and prior to submission of a narrative and budget. The EAC was committed to making these funds available as soon as feasibly possible. The goal of releasing the funds quickly was the hope that grants could have an immediate impact on the 2018 election cycle.
There’s just one problem. With the November election days away, Virginia has not spent a cent of the awarded grant money.
The Virginia Department of Elections has made big promises. Their website states that “funds will be used for initiatives such as increasing cyber security training, increasing security for elections data, and establishing more robust certification standards for voting equipment.” However, state officials have conceded that they have not moved swiftly enough to use any of the money before November. Their plans match those of other states, with the EAC reporting most states intend to use their funds within the next two to three years.
The Department of Elections does have plans in place to utilize this funding in the near future, solidifying their goal to strengthen Virginian election infrastructure. Currently, the state’s proposed plan earmarks nearly $6 million to be eventually directed towards new cyber-security initiatives.
However, with election security under such intense threat, it seems that Virginia missed a critical opportunity to protect its 2018 midterm elections. With our democracy at risk, states should be utilizing every resource available to protect voters.