As the House Slashes Funding for State and Local Election Departments, the Senate Should Do Better

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Not long ago, the House Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee proposed to slash funding for election infrastructure from $75 million to zero. If that becomes law, it would be a step backward that would create challenges for local election officials and erode public trust in our elections.

This is part of a long-running trend. For far too many years, the federal government has been a free rider and not paying its fair share to administer elections for congressional officials and people running for president. 

The last Congress took a small but meaningful step forward during the last days of the end-of-year budget debate by allocating $75 million in Help America Vote Act grants to state and local election officials. With the House’s disappointing elimination of this funding, and unless the Senate passes a fix, election departments and voters will be paying the price for years to come.

Since the 2020 election, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) has been working with a broad, bipartisan group of local and state election officials, elected officials and advocates to make the case that the federal government should invest in our nation’s election infrastructure. During these conversations, we’ve learned just how patchwork our nation’s voting systems truly are. Tabulators held together with duct tape, old voting machines that melt under pressure, out of date computers and offices that lack secure storage space for voting equipment are all common stories we’ve heard.

Simply put, election officials cannot boost confidence in our elections without the proper resources. 

The Election Infrastructure Initiative has estimated election funding needs at least $53 billion over 10 years. That includes $49.3 billion needed for election administration and operations, $1.8 billion needed to replace antiquated voting machines, $935 million needed to update statewide voter registration systems, $256 million to bolster post-election audits and $999 million for cybersecurity improvements and maintenance.

The stories election officials share with us are symptoms. The cause is simple: a lack of predictable federal funding. According to a recent study from MIT, public spending on election services ranks near the bottom, about the same as what local governments spend on parking facilities. We must do better.

The good news is that there is still time for the Senate to act. The Senate should raise funding to a minimum of $400 million in this budget. That would help set election officials up for success heading into the 2024 election. 

Senate action that boosts funding would allow election departments to focus on security, from training for staff to IT needs, post election audits and even physical building security. Investments in security in turn can boost voter confidence. Funding can also help election departments recruit more poll workers so that ballots are counted in a timely manner — a critical way to improve voter confidence. A survey from MIT of the 2022 election found that 69% of voters nationally were confident that votes were counted as intended, an increase from a similar survey in 2020. 

It is critical that voter confidence does not backslide in 2024. Simply put, election officials cannot boost confidence in our elections without the proper resources. 

Finally, we should remember that recent presidential elections of the last few cycles have also brought the unexpected, from COVID-19 to foreign state actors attempting to undermine our democracy. Elections departments that are properly resourced are better positioned to weather these challenges in a way that does not undermine voter confidence in our system.

There is strong bipartisan support from voters for Congress to invest in our election departments. A bipartisan group of state and local election officials agree and have called on Congress to take action. Together, we can strengthen election security, boost voter confidence and ensure the voices of all eligible voters are heard. That’s truly priceless. Is the Senate ready to meet this moment? 

Tiana Epps-Johnson is the executive director of the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to connecting Americans with the information they need to become and remain civically engaged and to ensure that elections are professional, inclusive and secure.