Did you know that Americans now spend nearly 10 times more on Halloween costumes than we do on the security of our elections? Federal lawmakers have kept funding to a minimum over the last few years, allocating $75 million for election security grants.
Compare that with an estimate from the Election Infrastructure Initiative, which says our election funding needs to add up to at least $53 billion over 10 years.
This is not just about administering our elections at home. It’s about protecting them against threats from abroad. Following the 2016 elections, the Department of Homeland Security designated our election system as a critical infrastructure sector, vulnerable to a range of threats — including interference from hostile foreign countries, ransomware attacks and evolving artificial intelligence.
It is critical that the right level of resources be available to help our local election officials stay vigilant against attackers’ tricks.
Amid all this instability, local election offices have faced unprecedented challenges, including outdated voting equipment, aging buildings and a record level of mail-in ballots. In Connecticut, for example, the voting equipment is so outdated in an aging building of one jurisdiction that the local officials have caught it melting in the summer temperatures.
Despite these challenges, our election workers continue to carry on with the sacred responsibility of protecting our democratic system and commit themselves every day to their civic duty. It is wrong to expect them to do so without the proper resources in place. If we want to protect our elections, we need to address these funding shortages.
The U.S. Senate is close to approving another $75 million in funding for Help America Vote Act security grants. While this funding level falls short of meeting the full needs of election offices across the nation, we must ensure that Congress supports the full $75 million appropriation as we head into the 2024 election season. This funding will go toward modernizing election administration and operations, maintaining in-person voting, updating voter registration systems and strengthening post-election audits.
The time to invest in election security is now — and the American people agree. Polling by the Election Infrastructure Initiative shows an overwhelming majority of Americans support significant investments to secure our elections. Eighty percent of registered voters support a $2 billion annual investment to replace outdated voting equipment, upgrade security systems, and hire and train the staff necessary to run state and local elections. Additionally, 77% of likely voters — and 86% of registered Republicans — agree that our elections need to be more safe, secure and accessible.
Consistent and predictable funding is critical to election offices heading into the upcoming election to ensure we have safe and fair elections not only this election season but in years to come. The longer we delay substantially investing in our local election infrastructure, the greater the chances these threats will haunt us in the future.
Tiana Epps-Johnson is the founder and executive director of the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which is based in Chicago.
The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.
The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.