Millions in federal funding will go toward new voting machines, though officials say the state is not dependent on the money for an accurate election.
(TNS) — Massachusetts has received millions of dollars in federal funding to bolster election security, but most of it will not be spent until after the November election.
The Bay State has received $7.9 million from the federal government, which election officials plan to spend on voting equipment, voter registration systems and cybersecurity, according to documents shared with Wicked Local. About 81 percent, however, will be spent after the upcoming midterm election.
State officials, nonetheless, say the federal dollars -- while helpful -- are not vital to running a safe and accurate election.
"We were already spending money and resources from our existing budget on cybersecurity, so we were not dependent on the federal funding for 2018," wrote Debra O'Malley, spokeswoman for Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin's office. "This additional funding will be used to add to our existing preparations and for future elections."
Election security has emerged as a major concern in the United States since 2016. In July, a grand jury indicted 12 Russian hackers, accusing them of interfering in the 2016 presidential election and stealing sensitive information from state and local election boards.
The suspected Russian interference, which has reportedly already happened again this election cycle, has pushed Massachusetts to spend more resources on cybersecurity beyond the federal funds.
"We have had cybersecurity staff for some time and we have added to our resources as needed since the 2016 election," O'Malley said, although she did not respond to a request to specify how much.
Congress in March appropriated $380 million for states to upgrade election security over the next five years. The now-approved spending plans, which explain in detail how each state is looking to upgrade local election systems, show how election security is prioritized in different parts of the country.
Like Massachusetts, most other states will spend the federal funding after the midterm elections, according to information compiled by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. How quickly the money is spent is ultimately up to local and state governments, according to the EAC, although individual plans did not receive final approval until August.
"The EAC is committed to making funds available as soon as feasibly possible. By releasing these funds quickly, it is hoped that the grants can have an immediate impact on the 2018 election cycle," according to the commission. "How the funds will impact the 2018 elections will be entirely determined by how and at what pace states and localities deploy the federal resources."
Massachusetts -- responsible for contributing $394,543 in state funds -- plans to spend about $1.5 million of the $7.9 million in federal funding prior to November. About $1 million will go toward upgrading network security and new equipment for municipalities. An additional $500,000 will pay for backup equipment, while $5,000 will be spent on cybersecurity training for local election officials, according to the Massachusetts proposal to the EAC.
Massachusetts election officials are relatively confident in the security of the state election system. Voting machines are offline and the statewide voter registration database is on a closed network, meaning it's not connected to the internet. Additionally, local and state election offices are hardwired together.
The somewhat antiquated system -- which many states started moving away from in the years leading up to 2016 -- makes it difficult to access without physically connecting.
"Voter registration itself, the lists of registered voters that we generate for election day and all election-related data, are contained in that closed system, accessible only via private line circuit from my office to Boston, an arrangement duplicated in every city and town in the commonwealth so that we are connected to that system rather than via an internet IP address connection," explained D. Wesley Slate Jr., Beverly city clerk, in a recent letter.
Beyond the November election, election officials plan to spend the remaining federal funding as follows:
©2018 Taunton Daily Gazette, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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