Election Security Update

The following update comes to us via FCCP member Allison Barlow of the Wallace Global Fund.


A cornerstone of our democracy is the integrity of our voting system. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress underscored the urgency of safeguarding our elections, as he reiterated the facts surrounding Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” interference in the 2016 elections, and pointed to incursions already underway in the run up to 2020. While I’m excited to be part of many different conversations about nonpartisan civic engagement efforts now underway, I’m writing today to call on funding colleagues to take on this critical and time-sensitive set of questions: how will our nation guarantee that all voters can securely express their voices on the issues they care about, that they are able to cast their ballots in a well-functioning system, and that every vote is counted as cast?

A bright spot in this challenging landscape is the recent news that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced $90 million in bond financing to fund statewide voting machine upgrades. This investment ensures that every vote cast in the state creates a trail that can be verified and audited post-election.  This significant announcement was quickly followed by last week’s report from NBC News

“Microsoft will give away software to guard U.S. voting machines… The tech giant says it has tracked more than 700 cyberattacks by foreign adversaries against U.S. political organizations so far this election cycle…. A recent report by Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center summed up the current state of vulnerability: ‘A number of independent research efforts have demonstrated the ease with which individual electronic voting stations can be compromised by simply using the paltry resources available to university research teams,” the report said. “Hostile foreign governments would be able to deploy orders of magnitude more resources to this task.”

In 2018, Congress appropriated $380m to help states upgrade their election systems. Much of that funding has already been used to strengthen cyber-security defenses, purchase secure equipment, and improve post-election safeguards. However, as the Brennan Center’s newly-released report on election funding demonstrates, this funding addresses only a fraction of states’ election security needs. In 2018, four states – including those used in closely-watched Georgia races – producing no auditable paper trails statewide. Indeed, almost one-third of America’s registered voters live in counties with voting systems that have no auditable paper trail.  

The advocacy community is working to address these needs before the 2020 election. At the national level they are pushing for additional funding from Congress to secure our vulnerable systems. Across the country, organizations like Verified Voting, the Brennan Center, Common Cause, Protect Democracy and others are working with local and state election administration officials to understand short and long-term steps they can take to improve their security and prepare for threats

They are providing evidence-backed recommendations at all levels of government on the need for funding and election security reform. They are providing in-person and online resources for election officials and educating grassroots activists. They are filing lawsuits and amicus briefs in states such as Georgia and South Carolina to challenge insecure systems and mandate better standards. And they are mobilizing local grassroots groups and individuals to raise awareness and speak out on the need for modern, resilient election systems and processes. 

Timely foundation support can help advance this important agenda. Advocates are in need of staff and resources on the ground to ensure election security needs are addressed thoroughly, particularly in the most vulnerable or closely scrutinized of states. Key groups are collaborating as never before to meet the challenges and opportunities in this arena, notably through the bipartisan National Election Defense Coalition, which brings the voices of military leaders to this critical national security agenda.  

The election integrity community is fortunate to have an experienced cohort of organizations working together to achieve important near term goals. There is a clear path to success and the impact of their work is certain to resonate in 2020 and beyond. Please contact the leaders noted below to learn how your foundation can help make sure that this essential, nonpartisan work continues so that voters in 2020 can be confident that their votes will be counted as cast on secure, well-supported voting systems.


Marian Schneider, Verified Voting, marian@verifiedvoting.org

Larry Norden, Brennan Center, nordenl@brennan.law.nyu.edu

Susannah Goodman, Common Cause, SGoodman@commoncause.org