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Officials eye tighter voting security
Federal money bolstering election safety measures
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 For Kansas, enhanced cyber-security for the upcoming Nov. 6 general election will likely be the focus of $4 million in new federal money provided to the state by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. 

This would be a wise investment, Barton County Election Officer Donna Zimmerman said. Barton County already has an election security team in place, but more training would be beneficial.

Nationwide, new voting equipment and cyber protections make up most of the investments detailed in state budgets submitted to the EAC following the appropriation of $380 million in new Help America Vote Act grants. The commission announced the grant totals Tuesday.

States were required to provide a 5 percent match. So, in Kansas, the federal portion was $4,383,595 and the state match was $219,180 for a total of $4,602,774.

“The Kansas Secretary of State’s office will consult with and seek input from county election officers and will submit the narrative and proposed budget by July 16, 2018,” Secretary of State Kris Kobach said. “In addition, the secretary of state will annually review the program and narrative with county election officers and selected third parties. This annual review may make modifications to the original narrative and budget until the entire award has been exhausted.”

Zimmerman said the final decision on how to use the Sunflower State’s portion has not been made. “They’ll probably use it for security. What that entails I don’t know.”

She said county election officers met with Kobach in May to discuss the allocation. Since many counties had already invested in voting equipment, it was decided it would be most fair to focus on election safety instead.

One possibility, she said, would be the additional training. This is key in light of recent reports of election tampering.

The county has a cyber-security advisory team made up of Zimmerman and Darin DeWitt from her office, a Sheriff’s Office detective, Information Technology Department personnel and County Administrator Phil Hathcock. “We want to make sure our email and internet are secure,” she said, adding continued communication between departments is crucial.

Although taking a break from their regular meetings now, they will resume meeting as the election draws closer, Zimmerman said. “We will brainstorm and see what we need to do.”

At the state level

“Just five months after Congress appropriated these vital funds, states and territories have money in the bank and new plans in place to protect the security, accessibility and efficiency of federal elections. The EAC is a proud partner in this accomplishment and we are pleased to share narratives and budgets that detail the impact these funds will have across the nation,” said EAC Chairman Thomas Hicks.

By releasing these funds quickly, it is hoped that the grants can have an immediate impact on the 2018 election cycle.

The plans released Tuesday contain details about how each state and territory plans to invest its funds, including:

• 36.3 percent of the funds will be spent by 41 states planning to improve election cyber-security. Six of the states not investing in cyber-security are using all of their funds to replace voting equipment.

• 27.8 percent of the funds will be spent on the purchase of new voting equipment in 34 states.

• 13.7 percent of the funds will be used to improve voter registration systems in 29 states.

• 5.6 percent of the funds have been allocated for post-election audit activities in 24 states.

• 2.0 percent of the funds will be used to improve election-related communications efforts in 18 states.

• 14.6 percent of the funds will be used for other state-specified activities, such as being held in reserve for future programming.

According to the narratives, the vast majority of states and territories plan to spend their allotted funds within the next two to three years. Each funding recipient is required to file a report for each fiscal year, the first of which are due by year’s end.

The $380 million in funding signed into law on March 23 marked the first new appropriations for HAVA funds since FY 2010. HAVA funds were designated to improve the administration of elections for federal office and allocated to states using a voting age population formula.

They were appropriated in March as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act.   

The Help America Vote Act has been around since 2002. At that time, funds from it helped Barton County purchase its new electronic voting machines which are still in service.