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Idaho gets $3.2M in grant money for election security

Idaho is receiving $3.2 million from a federal commission to secure and modernize its elections systems.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission released a report August 21 showing how states plan to spend $380 million allocated by Congress last spring to strengthen voting systems amid ongoing threats from Russia and others under the Help America Vote Act.

All but a fraction of the money has already been sent to the states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. The largest chunk — roughly 36 percent — is being spent to improve cybersecurity in 41 states and territories.

More than a quarter of the money will be used to buy new voting equipment in 33 states and territories, although the bulk of this is unlikely to happen until after the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Idaho’s plan to spend the federal money includes devoting $1 million to upgrade the state’s election system and voter registration database.

The updated system will include new election night reporting, campaign finance reporting and lobbyist registration. The project is estimated to cost $4 million over five years, meaning the federal dollars will help pay for nearly a quarter of the project.

The Secretary of State’s office has said further details of the contract — as well as the plan to cover the remaining costs of the project — will be disclosed once the contract is signed.

Meanwhile, $581,000 of the federal funds will be spent on tightening cybersecurity and $700,000 for election auditing — both of which will cover training for county election officials in the upcoming months.

“We certainly recognize everything from training to systems at the state level can be improved upon, and these dollars allow us to do that,” said Chad Houck, deputy Secretary of State, in a phone interview on August 21.

The money will also be used to help cover the costs of hiring a communications coordinator and cybersecurity policy analyst.

“It is our intent to request the new positions in our FY2020 state budget as well, allowing us the time to get state funding in place and migrate these positions to (traditional state employees) as we continue forward,” the state plan read.

In accepting the federal money, states were required to provide a match of 5 percent and have five years to spend it. That means Idaho is expected to spend roughly $161,500 of its own funds.

States have been scrambling to increase their cyber defenses, upgrade voting systems and provide training to local election officials since it was revealed that Russian hackers targeted election systems in at least 21 states in 2016, although the number is likely greater. There has been no indication any vote tallies were changed.

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