[Image via EAC]

Last Thursday, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) released the first report detailing how states spent funds allocated to them in 2018 under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Here’s the release:

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) today released a Grant Expenditure Report for Fiscal Year 2018 detailing how states and territories have spent $3,628,946,231 in federal funds made available through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) from the time the legislation was ratified on October 29, 2002 until September 30, 2018. The report also examines how states and territories were able to begin spending an additional $380 million in 2018 HAVA Funds to great effect within just the first six months of those funds being made available to them.

From when the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2018 was signed into law on March 23, 2018 through September 30, 2018, states reported spending 8.1 percent of the $380 million allocated and have outlined plans to significantly increase spending ahead of the 2020 election. Since the initial election reform grants were made in the early 2000s, states and territories report total expenditures of $3,400,037,361, or 85 percent of total federal funds and accrued interest, available under Sections 101, 102 and 251 of HAVA.

The EAC worked to efficiently and responsibly award the 2018 HAVA Funds, which were made available less than seven months before the Midterm Elections. To access the funds, eligible states and territories provided a budget and a state narrative outlining plans for how those funds will be used. States could technically begin spending funds once they received their notice of grant award on April 17, 2018. However, most states waited until funds had been transferred to their state election accounts and many states first had to get state legislative approval before spending funds.

“Last year, with the 2018 Midterm Elections fast approaching, election officials across the nation rose to the occasion, spending when appropriate, but also creating long-term multi-faceted plans to invest these vital funds in meaningful election administration improvements,” said EAC Chairwoman Christy McCormick.

“The 2018 HAVA Funds have been used to make a tangible difference in the efficiency, security, accessibility and integrity of American elections. Funds supported an array of activities, including innovations in cybersecurity for voter registration systems, procurement of voting equipment, and improvements to post-election audit procedures. That such an impact has already been felt by these funds is a shining example of the benefit of federal-regional partnerships and the tireless work of election administrators across the country. I am pleased the EAC can highlight those efforts in today’s report,” McCormick noted.

The 2018 HAVA Funds were used by states to improve their election systems in a number of innovative ways, including:

Arkansas has spent almost all of its funds already to establish cost-sharing agreements with the counties to replace aging voting equipment. The acquisitions ensure that a paper trail for ballots cast is present in all Arkansas counties and almost 70 percent of Arkansas voters are voting on a new integrated election equipment system. Of the initial $4,724,225 in funds available through federal appropriations, the required state match and interest, as of Sept. 30, 2018, Arkansas had only $44,305 in funds remaining.

Colorado plans to use its $6,342,979 in 2018 HAVA Funds to enhance technology and security in the state’s election process, including work to improve risk-limiting audits and other audits of election-related systems in 2019 and beyond.

Delaware plans to purchase new voting equipment, including a new voting system that has a voter verifiable paper audit trail, an absentee voting system and an Election Management/Voter Registration system that will move elections from the state’s aging mainframe.

Indiana helped counties implement multi-factor authentication systems for accessing voting equipment and conducted cybersecurity training for all county officials during the state’s annual election administrators conference. Going forward, the state plans to acquire additional election technology, implement e-poll book vendor network security enhancements, deploy auditable voting systems and perform election night reporting security enhancements.

Iowa conducted cybersecurity training seminars for county auditors and staff and participated in a pilot program for a self-assessment cybersecurity tool. The Secretary of State’s Office also implemented two-factor authentication for access to the statewide voter registration system, purchased additional security protections for the state’s election night reporting system and partnered with the Department of Homeland Security to conduct two tabletop exercises.

Massachusetts made network security upgrades to its voter registration system, hired a network security engineer and conducted security training for election staff. The Secretary of State’s Office also plans to use funds to acquire new voting equipment, upgrade the state’s voter registration system and improve the cybersecurity of its election system.

New Mexico hired a full-time IT security and compliance administrator whose responsibilities include implementing additional security practices to safeguard sensitive data and election systems, and protecting against cyber vulnerabilities. The state also purchased scan tabulation systems that feature ballot image capture and audit capabilities.

Rhode Island purchased a database platform for its Centralized Voter Registration system that encrypts all the data. The state also purchased a system for the Centralized Voter Registration System that monitors the system, protects it from ransomware, and protects sensitive data in the system. In addition, the state purchased a system that provides real time analysis of security threats, sends alerts if issues are detected and quarantines devices if there is abnormal activity.

Vermont used a portion of its 2018 HAVA Funds to replace and upgrade voting equipment, implement post-election audits, mitigate cyber vulnerabilities and provide required cybersecurity training for all town and city clerks in the spring of 2018, prior to the 2018 Midterm Elections.

Washington spent part of its 2018 HAVA Funds on cybersecurity equipment. The state implemented advanced firewall protection for its centralized election system and installed an advanced threat detection and prevention appliance. The state also acquired a database storage device on the Voter Registration system that has back-up and recovery capabilities. All equipment and software, with the exception of the database storage device, was in place prior to the November 2018 election.

Washington, D.C. has used $399,400 of its funds to purchase new voting equipment and hire additional staff to increase the number of early voting centers across the District of Columbia, to train election officials and to produce voter education materials. The District of Columbia plans to use its remaining 2018 HAVA Funds to acquire additional equipment, increase maintenance and support, hire a full-time cybersecurity expert, hire and train additional poll workers, continue voter education and outreach, and invest in technology to improve all aspects of voter registration and election administration.

A brief summary of how each state and territory has used their HAVA funds is available within the FY18 Grant Expenditure Report. States are required to submit another financial report in December 2019.

Some initial media reports have focused on how little of the money was spent before the 2018 election, but in reality it would have been difficult anyway because of the timing of the grants and the procedures required to access them and begin spending. These reports are a fascinating and important look at states’ plans – and the December 2019 reports should have even more detail on states’ approach to security and other needs in the 2020 election. Stay tuned …