Skip to content

Election officials, retired lawmakers plead for more money to protect voting

Security grants should not be a partisan issue, watchdog group argues

Voting signs are seen outside a polling place in New York during a special election this February. As the presidential campaign season heats up, election administrators around the country are calling for more security grant funding.
Voting signs are seen outside a polling place in New York during a special election this February. As the presidential campaign season heats up, election administrators around the country are calling for more security grant funding. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

With House appropriators set to mark up a spending bill this week that may, or may not, end up including more money for election security, a bipartisan collection of current election administrators and former elected officials is pleading with them to step up before the contentious 2024 presidential campaign gets into full swing. 

The groups, both organized by the nonpartisan government watchdog Issue One, had asked congressional appropriators for at least $400 million in election security grants administered by the Election Assistance Commission. President Joe Biden’s budget requested $96 million.

But the Financial Services and General Government spending bill released Tuesday by House Republicans proposes to cut all funding for election security grants.

“They zeroed out election funding, which is a fundamentally unserious position to take,” said Gideon Cohn-Postar, legislative director for Issue One. 

House Republicans’ desire to reduce nondefense spending drove the ax. The 2025 fiscal year proposal for the spending bill would cut topline spending by 10 percent compared to fiscal year 2024.

In the last round of spending negotiations, Republicans proposed to cut the grants completely in earlier versions of the House spending bill, while in the Democratic-led Senate, appropriators proposed $75 million, on par with the fiscal year 2023 level. Ultimately, the two sides agreed to $55 million.

Cohn-Postar said last year’s cuts had more to do with the overall fiscal environment, but the prevalent election falsehoods spread in conservative circles have not helped. “Lies about election security have taken their toll and made it harder for people to legislate on this in a bipartisan way,” said Cohn-Postar.

What was once a noncontroversial request has grown more polarized since the 2020 elections.  Refusing to accept the verified results, former President Donald Trump has made countless debunked claims of fraud, which many other Republicans now treat like an article of faith.

“The falsehoods about the election have made what has traditionally been a very bipartisan area of governance much more contentious,” said Cohn-Postar.

In a press release, House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., derided the GOP’s proposed spending reductions. “The agencies and programs that protect everyday American consumers, secure our elections, and make our economy work for hardworking people are funded in this bill, so it is disappointing, but not surprising, that House Republicans have completely decimated its funding,” she wrote.

Many Republicans in Congress have echoed Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, which undermine Americans’ faith in fair and free elections and have been promoted by Russian and Chinese propagandists, according to the Election Integrity Partnership.

“This truly isn’t a partisan request, the committee received budgetary requests for this program from at least half a dozen Republican members, and [Republican] secretaries of state including from Arkansas have explicitly called for the funds,” Cohn-Postar said in an email. 

“This investment is essential to protecting our nation’s elections from foreign interference, cyber, and physical threats against election offices and officials,” reads the letter to House and Senate appropriators from the bipartisan National Council on Election Integrity, whose signatories include former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, former senator and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Asa Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor who ran unsuccessfully in the GOP 2024 presidential primary.

The other letter, signed by 21 state and local administrators, including the secretaries of state for Nevada, Michigan and Arizona, said more federal funds were needed to prevent attempts to disrupt vote counts. “Responding to cybersecurity attacks from foreign adversaries, countering threats, abuse and harassment of election officials (80% of whom are women) that cross state lines, and administering federal mandates on voter registration and ballot access all involve federal action,” they wrote.

In response to worries about foreign election interference, Congress provided $380 million in grants in 2018, along with $400 million in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite that, the gap between the added costs of safely running elections amid a deadly pandemic and the money provided by Congress led state and local officials across the nation to accept funds from outside groups like the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit backed financially by Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Republicans have decried the influx of private money into election administration, introducing bills to check the practice, which is already banned or limited in 28 states. While some Democrats also oppose the practice, they have argued that the problem would be better resolved by providing more federal funds to support election administrators.

Congress cut security grant funding completely in the 2021 budget, then provided $75 million in each of 2022 and 2023. Election officials have repeatedly asked for more, but some appropriators have questioned the need, given that some of the appropriations remain unspent.

Cohn-Postar said officials are holding on to the funds to budget for later years, precisely since they cannot bank on Congress providing more money. “The fact [they] haven’t spent all the money is all the more reason for [Congress] to make a consistent appropriation,” Cohn-Postar argued.

The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee will mark up of the fiscal year 2025 spending bill on Wednesday

Recent Stories

Bannon asks Supreme Court to keep him out of prison

Her family saw the horrors of the Holocaust. Now Rep. Becca Balint seeks to ‘hold this space’

Supreme Court clarifies when a gun law is constitutional

Capitol Ink | The Trumpy Handbook

House Republicans shift message on extending 2017 tax cuts

Will the real Donald Trump get the coverage he deserves?