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Bipartisan House Bill Proposes $50M for Election Security

As localities prepare for the U.S. presidential election, a new bill from the House suggests giving state and local governments a helping hand when it comes to assuring election security.

cybersecurity funding concept
A new House bill shows there's bipartisan consensus when it comes to helping state and local government secure federal elections.

The Cyber Navigators Act, introduced earlier this month by Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., and co-sponsored by Rep. Kathleen M. Rice, D-N.Y., would create a federal grant program to assist state and local officials in hiring outside help when looking to secure their voting infrastructure and procedures.

The bill would amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), directing the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to annually disburse some $50 million in grant funding to qualifying state and local governments so that they could employ IT contractors to assist with issues like "risk management, resiliency, and technical support services," says the bill text.

As the primary federal source of election resources for the states, the EAC is a natural choice for this responsibility. Under the bill, localities that received grant funding would be responsible for submitting a report to the commission on how the funds were allocated. The EAC would then submit its own report to House and Senate administration committees on the effectiveness of the program, the bill states.     

While many researchers are dubious about the ability of foreign actors to manipulate vote counts in U.S. elections in any meaningful way, the 2016 election showed that even minor interventions can cause widespread doubt over the validity of election outcomes. In 2016, Russia targeted election infrastructure in all 50 states — managing to hack into systems in at least 21 different states and causing a divided conversation about whether the election outcome was valid.

In a prepared statement, Katko said that the bill originated from conversations he had with local election officials in New York, as well as with representatives from the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), he said. 

“As we quickly approach November’s General Election, state and local governments must have the resources to ensure the integrity of their election systems," said Katko, in a statement. "This bipartisan bill authorizes a grant program to enable state and local governments to hire cybersecurity professionals capable of detecting and addressing vulnerabilities within election systems to strengthen our election security."

Katko, who is the ranking member of the House's Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation subcommittee, has been at the forefront of a number of other legislative efforts to empower state and local cybercapabilities through federal funding, having last year introduced the State and Local Cybersecurity Act, which proposed allocating some $400 million for improved state and local cybersecurity.  

Lucas Ropek is a former staff writer for Government Technology.