Funding Elections Technology
In light of security concerns around elections, there has been an increased focus in recent months on the nation’s aging voting technology. State and local officials have been working on replacing outdated equipment in recent years, which limited budgets, but the majority of the voting machines used to cast and count votes in the country are those that were bought between 2002 and 2008. Many of these machines were purchased with federal funds through the 2002 Help America Vote Act and as anyone with an older model of a smart phone knows, technology moves quickly.
On March 23, 2018 President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 into law, which included $380 million in Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grants for states to make election security improvements. Among the authorized uses of the grant funds is the replacement of voting equipment, specifically equipment that does not produce a paper record or that is determined to be at the end of its useful life. See the EAC’s page on 2018 HAVA Election Security Funds for additional information on the amount of grant funding provided by state, and other FAQs.
In order to receive the grant funds states must provide at least a 5 percent match within two years of receiving the federal funds and submit a state plan detailing how the funds are to be used. Every state received a base of $3 million, with the remaining funds disbursed using the voting age population formula described in Sections 101 and 103 of HAVA. This means that states received anywhere from $3 million to $34 million, depending on the population of the state. Many states plan to use some of these funds for replacing voting equipment, and six states (Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, North Dakota and Pennsylvania) plan to put all of their allocated HAVA funds toward new voting equipment. See this chart for state by state details.
In most states, however, the allocated amount is not sufficient for a statewide replacement of all aging voting equipment. And, there are competing security priorities, including beefing up statewide voter registration databases, conducting cybersecurity activities, and implementing post-election audits. Even though the funding picture is rosier than it was even a few months ago, states and localities are still in a position of needing to come up with funds to replace aging voting systems in order to ensure the security of our democracy.
With recent revelations of foreign hacking attempts and misinformation campaigns there has been an increased focus on voting machines, but no intelligence reports have thus far revealed that voting machines themselves have been the victims of an attack or that voting results were changed. Even so, election officials acknowledge that the age of these machines is a potential vulnerability.
It is typically within the purview of local election officials to replace voting equipment, but states have been stepping up in the last several years to assist with this funding. When states take steps to assist their jurisdictions with purchasing new voting equipment, they can do so in a variety of ways. Here are some options that are being discussed nationwide:
- A direct appropriation for purchasing new voting equipment statewide.
- In 2019 Hawaii (SB 166) allocated $789,598 for the purpose of a vote counting system contract.
- In 2019 South Carolina purchased new voting equipment statewide for a total cost of $51 million. Funds came from $40 million approved by the legislature, $9 million that had been previously appropriated, and $5.5 million of the state's HAVA security allocation.
- In 2019 Georgia issued a $150 million bond package for the replacement of voting equipment statewide. The state also appropriated $12,840,000 from the General Fund for the purpose of financing projects and facilities for the Office of Secretary of State. This was the culmination of a multi-year process in which a commission studied available voting equipment (see below for additional information). HB 316 (2019) required all elections in the state to be conducted with the use of electronic ballot markers and tabulated with ballot scanners. The state selected a vendor in July 2019.
- In 2019 Wyoming appropriated $7.5 million into an election readiness account (HB 21). The state's $3 million HAVA allocation will also be placed in this account, the majority of which will go toward replacing outdated voting equipment statewide.
- In 2019 North Dakota enacted SB 2002, which included a one-time appropriation for voting equipment and electronic poll books statewide. The total amount of $11.2 million included $8.2 million in state funds and $3 million in HAVA funds.
- In 2018 Ohio passed SB 135 which allocated up to $104.5 million (though the issuance of obligations) to counties for the replacement of voting equipment and $10 million in General Revenue Funds to reimburse counties that have already purchased new voting equipment. Machines will be purchased by the state using the proceeds from the issuance of Certificates of Participation (fixed income obligations, analogous to bonds). The equipment will be initially owned by the state and maintained by the counties. Ownership of the equipment will transfer to counties after payment of the Certificates of Participation. Funds are allocated based on a county’s population and number of registered voters.
- In Utah the 2018 governor’s budget, approved by the legislature, included a $4.5 million one-time allocation and $500,000 in ongoing funds for the purchase of new voting equipment.
In 2018 Alaska's governor approved a fiscal package that included $4.8 to modernize and replace the existing election voting equipment. Alaska plans to use all of its allocated 2018 HAVA funds as well as this funding package to replace all of the voting equipment in the state before 2020.
In 2018 the Delaware legislature approved $10 million (included in the FY 2019 Bond Bill HB 475 section 40) to be used for a statewide voting equipment purchase. A Voting Equipment Selection Task Force, which included legislators as well as state and local election officials, recommended a vendor to provide voting equipment with a paper trail. The state will also use all of its $3 million in 2018 HAVA funds toward the new system.
Rhode Island purchased voting machines statewide in 2016, with funds from the legislature. The total cost of the eight year lease with an option to purchase is $9.28 million. The Secretary of State's office also announced the statewide expansion of e-poll books beginning in 2018 after a successful pilot program of KnowINK's e-poll book.
New Mexico purchased voting machines statewide in 2014, with funds directly appropriated by the legislature.
North Dakota participated in NCSL's Elections 2020 Project in 2016. In 2017, the legislature considered and ultimately rejected two related bills: ND H 1122 would have provided $3 million to the secretary of state for the procurement and implementation of electronic pollbooks to be utilized statewide in all polling places and ND H 1123 would have provided $9 million to the secretary of state for the procurement and implementation of a voting system to be utilized statewide. North Dakota plans to use all of its allocated 2018 HAVA funds ($3 million) toward the purchase of new voting equipment, with plans to select a vendor in 2019.
- Splitting the cost of new voting equipment between the state and counties.
- Pennsylvania Govornor Tom Wolf announced funding for voting equipment upgrades in his 2019 budget. During funding negotiations a $90 million appropration was included in a bill passed by the legislature but subsequently vetoed by the governor since it would also have eliminated straight-ticket voting. The governor then announced that he would issue a bond to assist counties in purchasing new voting systems with a paper trail. The Pennsylvania Economic Development Finance Authority would issue bonds (up to $90 million) and the Department of State would make grants available to reimburse counties up to 60 percent of their actual costs to replace voting systems. This follows an announcement in 2018 by the Secretary of State that counties replace paperless machines by the November 2019 election. The date by which it now appears counties will be able to replace equipment is not until 2020 or 2021.
- In 2018 California Governor Jerry Brown included $134 million to help pay for voting equipment upgrades in his budget proposal, which was approved by the legislature in June (AB 1824). The bill requires the secretary of state to use the funds for voting system replacement by reimbursing counties for eligible expenses based on the size of the county, the number of registered voters, and the secretary of state’s estimate of need for voting equipment. To receive reimbursement, a county has to provide matching funds that are at least equivalent to state funds received. The state also plans to use $20 million of its allocated 2018 HAVA funds to provide county support for vote center implementation, which includes capital costs, infrastructure needs and equipment costs associated with vote center implementation.
In 2017, Michigan approved the use of $40 million ($30 million in leftover HAVA funds and $10 million more through a direct appropriation) to cover the upfront costs of new election equipment, and five years of service and maintenance. Maintenance for the final five years of the 10-year contract will be covered by county and local governments.
In Arkansas an appropriation to the secretary of state in 2015 included up to $30 million to replace voting equipment statewide. No money was set aside to pay for a statewide rollout, though. The secretary of state selected a voting system and has provided funds on a county by county basis, as funds became available, for the purchase of the new system. The funds have come out of the secretary of state's budget and the county voting systems grant fund and counties are expected to match the amount provided, resulting in a 50/50 cost sharing arrangement. Arkansas plans to use all of its allocated 2018 HAVA funds for the replacement of voting equipment, with an emphasis on the remaining counties that have equipment with no paper trail, and then the remaining counties who have not yet upgraded equipment.
Maryland split the cost of its new statewide system 50/50 between the state and counties. The state negotiated a statewide lease of new equipment in 2014. In 2007, the Legislature mandated a paper trail of all ballots, but lack of funding precluded implementation until 2014 when the lease of new equipment was finalized. The new system requires voters to fill in by hand paper ballots that get fed into a scanner and tabulated.
- Other states are considering assisting counties with a percentage of the costs of new machines as well.
- Setting up a grant program or a low-interest loan program for counties that need to purchase equipment.
- In 2018 the West Virginia legislature passed a bill (SB 548) that authorized grant funding opportunities for local election officials for election system upgrades. The state will also add the 2018 HAVA funds to its existing "County Grant and Loan Fund" for election systems. The new funds will be distributed to counties for election equipment (50% grant with 50% local match), and physical security, cybersecurity and e-poll books (all up to 85% grant with a 15% local match).
- In 2017 Nevada passed AB519 that made $8 million in grant funds for replacing voting equipment available for counties. $4.5 million was allocated to Clark County (Las Vegas), $1.7 million to Washoe County (Reno), and $1.8 million to be distributed to the other counties in the state.
- In 2017 Minnesota created a Voting Equipment Grant Account as part of the State Government Omnibus Finance Bill (Article 3, Section 17) and allocated $7 million to the grant (Article 1, Section 6, Subd. 5). A political subdivision is eligible to receive up to 75% of the cost of e-poll book equipment and up to 50% the cost of voting equipment.
- In 2017 Utah passed HB 16 that made $275,000 available in grant funds for counties looking to buy new equipment, to be allocated based on the total number of active voters in a county.
- In 2017 Iowa's HF 516 included the establishment of an electronic poll book and polling place technology revolving loan fund (Section 37) to be administered by the state commission and using moneys allocated fromt the state commissioner's budget and any other moneys obtained for deposit in the fund.
- In 2017 Nebraska is considered, but did not pass, L 316 which would create the Election Technology Administration Fund consisting of federal funds, state funds, gifts, and grants appropriated for the administration of elections. The primary purpose of the fund is to ensure the longevity of the state's election technology. The Secretary of State shall make periodic requests for appropriations for the fund in order to ensure the ability to purchase new technology on a statewide basis as necessary. The Secretary of State shall use the fund for voting systems, provisional voting, computerized statewide voter registration lists, voter registration, training or informational materials related to elections, and any other costs related to elections. is considering two bills on funding elections technology this session as a culmination to its task force on elections technology.
- Entering into agreements with counties to buy equipment in bulk to take advantage of economies of scale.
- Dedicated revenue through fees.
- In states where the secretary of state is the chief election official, this could be done through fees administered by the business side of the office.
- In Mississippi there is an Elections Support Fund derived from annual report fees imposed on limited liability companies. 50 percent of the funds go to counties annually, by proportion of the total population the county bears, for the acquisition, maintenance, repair and support of voting equipment. The other 50 percent is allocated to the secretary of state for maintenance of the Statewide Elections Management System (Miss. Code Ann. § 23-15-5).
- Louisiana passed HB 151 in 2015 allowing the secretary of state’s office to charge for maps that it produces and to put that money into the Voting Technology Fund.
- Passing a statewide bond measure for counties to leverage with matching funds.
- In 2017 California's legislature considered, but did not pass, AB 668 which would have created a $450 million bond for voting equipment upgrades, if approved by voters in the 2018 election. Counties would have had to match the amount received with local funds to qualify for the bond issuance.
- Leaving the purchasing and decision-making in the hands of local jurisdictions, where funding could come from local appropriations or through bonds. Jurisdictions may have a capital expense line item for elections equipment, and funds build up over a few years to make major purchases. This is the traditional approach to funding for elections equipment.
- Designing brand new equipment or open source software that can be run on off-the-shelf devices.
- Jurisdictions may be able to carve out funds for new equipment by creating efficiencies elsewhere in the process. Denver has done this. Former elections director Amber McReynolds paid for new equipment such as mail ballot processing machines by focusing on procedural improvements that save time, and therefore money.
Task Forces and Special Study Committees
When faced with the prospect of purchasing new voting equipment, states sometimes choose to establish a task force or special study committee in the legislature to study the voting systems that currently exist, and what might be best for the state. Here are some examples:
- One of the charges of Alaska's Election Policy Work Group is to evaluate, explore, and recommend a strategy for the replacement of the current voting system as deemed appropriate and necessary. The group's work is ongoing as of August 2018.
- In 2013 The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office established an advisory committee to study a uniform voting system. The Uniform Voting System Advisory Committee incorporated the perspectives of county clerks, county commissioners, legislators and interest groups into a plan for and implementation of a Uniform Voting System in Colorado.
- The State of Colorado then issued a Request for Information (RFI) and later a Request for Proposals (RFP). Five vendors that responded to the RFP with proposals for complete systems, and of these four were granted “temporary certification” under Colorado law (Colo. Rev. Stat. §1-5-619) and were piloted in two counties each in the November 2015 election.
- After assessment of the pilots, The Secretary of State’s Office and a Pilot Election Review Committee selected a statewide vendor in December 2015.
- Counties are now purchasing equipment in a phased-in approach--some in 2016 and the remaining over the next few years.
- The Secretary of State’s Office made $850,000 in leftover HAVA funds available to assist counties with the training and implementation of the new system, though the system itself will be purchased with county funds.
- The state negotiated the contract on behalf of Colorado counties, which provided “extraordinary” savings compared to if the counties had individually negotiated contracts for themselves.
- Although the state did not mandate that counties move to the state-selected system, the Secretary of State’s Office will cease to support other vendors and voting systems in the future.
- Extensive materials regarding the process are available on the Colorado Secretary of State’s Uniform Voting System page.
- The Election Technology Committee was established Feb. 29, 2016 with the adoption of LR403. The committee studied the longevity of technology used by election commissioners and county clerks, and the feasibility of updating or replacing Nebraska’s election technology.
- A report was issued at the end of 2016 outlining available equipment and financing options.
- In 2016 the Pennsylvania legislature enacted SR 394 which directs the Joint State Government Commission to study the issue of voting system technology and to report to the Senate its findings and recommendations.
- The study was issued in December 2017 and looked at election technology administration across the country, surveyed counties in the state to identify current and future technology needs, and performed a cost study to upgrade technology.
- Rhode Island
- Rhode Island's Secretary of State Gorbea has convened task forces primarily comprised of state and local election officials to make improvements to Rhode Island's election systems.
- Among the recommendations discussed in the most recent task force were legislative initiatives such as Early In-Person Voting, Automatic Voter Registration, Post-election Audits, and clarifying the number of voting machines that the Board of Elections can allocate at each polling place. These initiatives are currently under review at the General Assembly.
- Other recommendations called for investment to fully implement the very popular electronic-poll books across the state; and using best practices identified in the private sector to improve field operations on Election Day.
- Another task force studied voting equipment and e-poll book options in 2016 when the state considered, and ultimately approved and funded, new voting equipment statewide.
- South Carolina
- In 2016 the Lieutenant Governor convened the Voting Equipment Selection Committee (VESC) to study voting equipment options for the state. The committee included county clerks, an advocate for voters with disabilities, state election officials, and other experts. A preferred election equipment vendor was chosen in October 2017.
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