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Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) were among those who appeared at a hearing on Election Security held by the U.S. Committee on House Administration this month.
Over two years after Russian hackers targeted U.S. voting systems in the 2016 presidential race, Merrill, Benson and everyone else who testified before the committee agreed that more federal funding for election security was needed. There was also general agreement on a number of measures states should be - and some already are - taking, such as replacing paperless voting machines with those that provide a paper record and auditing election results.
“Local officials in 31 states told us that they must replace their equipment before the 2020 election, but two-thirds of these officials said that they do not have the adequate funds to do so,” Larry Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the committee. “And officials in 45 states currently use at least some systems that are no longer manufactured, with many reporting that they have difficulty finding replacements when parts fail.”
But the secretaries of state diverged on a bill pending in Congress (HR 1) that would provide $1.2 billion in federal funding for election system improvements. Merrill opposed the funding being tied to automatic voter registration or same-day voting mandates.
“I would prefer to have less strings attached from the federal government, if they choose to make an allocation,” he said. “Every state’s needs are not the same.”
As an alternative, he proposed the publication of a federal evaluation of voting technology - a sort of Consumer Reports for election equipment - to help state and local officials make wise purchases.
Benson, however, said “local variation can lead to potential vulnerabilities” and that it was “low-hanging fruit” for the federal government to see to it that all election equipment meets minimum standards. (GOVERNING, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)