President Joe Biden’s budget proposal for the 2023 fiscal year includes $10 billion over a decade to help state and local election officials upgrade IT assets, improve their cyber and physical security and hire personnel.
The funding, the White House’s budget reads, would be meant to ensure that elections are conducted “commensurate with the improved access and security that voters expect and deserve.”
The proposal would also establish something election and cybersecurity officials have long pleaded with Congress for, but haven’t received: a dedicated funding stream for improvements to election administration. The White House’s budget proposal notes that previous rounds of funding have come on an ad-hoc basis.
“Federal funding for the equipment, systems, and personnel that comprise the Nation’s critical election infrastructure has been episodic or crisis-driven,” the budget proposal reads.
The last two major rounds of election assistance funding were largely driven by crises: In 2018, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission parceled out $380 million in grants after it was learned that Russian-linked hackers attempted to penetrate election officials’ computer networks during the 2016 election. And in 2020, a federal coronavirus relief package included $400 million to help states cover a sudden and major expansion of absentee voting.
Biden also proposed a $5 billion boost to the U.S. Postal Service, which saw about 46% of ballots cast nationwide in 2020 come through the mail, according to the USPS Office of the Inspector General. That funding would be used to boost delivery capacity “in underserved areas and support for vote-by-mail, including making ballots postage-free and reducing the cost of other election-related mail for jurisdictions and voters.”
Previous attempts to establish annual funding for election assistance — sometimes included in voting-rights bills — have fallen short in Congress. And some estimates of how much state and local officials need to cover their election costs over the next decade also go well beyond the $10 billion Biden is proposing.
A study last December from the Election Infrastructure Initiative, an effort backed by the Center for Tech and Civic Life and Center for Secure and Modern Elections and backed by bipartisan groups of secretaries of state and local officials, estimated $53 billion is needed over the next 10 years to modernize and secure election infrastructure.
The $1.5 trillion federal spending package signed into law earlier this month included just $75 million for election administration assistance.