NJ to spend $10M on election security — a ‘drop in the bucket’
The Murphy administration has decided how it will spend $10.2 million on election security initiatives, mostly federal aid that will pay for cybersecurity, database improvements and auditing the accuracy of election machines.
Among the uses for the funds will be implementing automatic voter registration at the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission agencies and helping some counties acquire voting machines that create a voter-verified paper audit trail.
Among the 13 states with paperless voting machines, only Indiana and Texas are committing a smaller percentage of their new Help America Vote Act funds toward voting equipment than the $2.5 million New Jersey plans to spend.
“The state’s plan to spend the HAVA funds I think is really thorough, but it’s important to note that the amount of funds that they’re talking about is really just a drop in the bucket to what they really need to update our election systems,” said Jesse Burns, the executive director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.
The funding includes $9.76 million in federal funds, part of $380 million in grants the federal Election Assistance Commission is making available through a law enacted in March, and $487,873 in required state matching funds.
The Brennan Center for Law and Justice at New York University estimates it would cost between $40.4 million and $63.5 million for New Jersey to replace all its voting machines with ones that create a paper trail.
Nationally, 28 percent of HAVA funds are being spent on voting equipment, similar to New Jersey’s 26 percent.
But shares vary significantly, with some states spending nothing on such equipment. Half of the states with paperless voting machines are spending at least 80 percent of their HAVA funds on voting equipment, including all the money to Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana and Pennsylvania.
Among the states spending more than New Jersey’s $2.5 million are significantly smaller ones such as Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming – a list that includes the nation’s six least populous states.
“It’s really just a step in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go,” Burns said.
New Jersey will use the money to establish a pilot program in small jurisdictions with a small number of voting systems through which counties can lease or purchase voting systems that create a voter-verified paper audit trail – receipts, in a sense, that allow the voter to see their intentions are recorded correctly and the county to review to make sure the machines record vote totals accurately.
Through the additional money, the state will:
- Have the Department of State’s Division of Elections fund an employee at the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness or Department of Military and Veterans Affairs solely dedicated to elections. That person will be the liaison to information technology directors in the 21 counties.
- Develop a program to help counties assess the risk and vulnerability of their current voter registration systems, followed by $2.25 million in grants to help counties implement the resulting remediation plan.
- Assess the physical vulnerability of each county’s election equipment, with $1 million in remediation grants to counties to follow.
- Develop a cybersecurity training exercise for county election officials, similar to what state officials have participated in through the federal Department of Homeland Security, and an accompanying election security playbook.
- Work with county election officials to develop online poll worker training.
- Develop an election-specific mobile app to get voters – who in some places could be eligible for nine separate elections a year – easy-to-find information concerning elections.
- Modernize the statewide voter registration system, including the use of geographic information system mapping technology and geocoding of individual street addresses to ensure people are registered to vote in the proper precincts.
- Provide $1 million in grants to counties to ensure polling places are compliant with the Americans with Disability Act and to provide poll workers training directly related to assisting voters with disabilities.
“The voting equipment is a very small part of this plan,” Burns said. “A lot of the things that they’re talking about are completely necessary.”
The $3 million New Jersey will spend on cybersecurity is 31 percent of the plan. Nationally, states will spend 36 percent on cybersecurity, including all the funds in Illinois and New York around half or more in Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
The state will spend $757,450 in federal funds and its $487,873 in state matching funds on its voter registration system, more than all but eight states and Puerto Rico.
Burns said that when the Legislature was debating automatic voter registration earlier this year, the possibility of using HAVA funds to ensure the MVC can transmit voters and their electronic signatures to the Division of Elections was discussed. That law was enacted in April and takes effect Nov. 1.