Most states can't afford the complete election system overhauls security experts believe they need. But California has budgeted for election cybersecurity at a level most states could never manage without federal funding.
The big picture: California's elections are what those in every state could look like, with enough money.
What they're saying: "Secretaries of state know what the recommendations and best practices are — paper ballots, post election audits — we know all of those things," says California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. "But states and local governments need the resources to implement it."
The investment: Per the secretary of state's office:
- The state of California allocated $134 million for new voting machines. With a dollar for dollar match from local governments, that's nearly $270 million.
- California also spent $3 million on an Office of Elections Cybersecurity.
That's about $7 a Californian on top of an election system that this year already abided by the most universal recommendations for running a safe election — ballots that leave a paper trail and auditing to make sure machines are working as intended.
- The new funding for machines isn't solely about security. It's also about machines at the end of their working lives.
- Much of the voting infrastructure in the U.S. was purchased during the last wave of federal funding under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002.
- Age is a factor in many of the machine that malfunction. It might not be a hacker changing your vote; it might just be the ravages of time.
The national government did pass legislation before the election to distribute leftover HAVA funds to states for election cybersecurity. But there wasn't much.
- California received $34 million — less than $1 a person and nowhere near enough to do the type of machinery overhaul planned with state funds.
California's Office of Election Cybersecurity was a platform to head off misinformation about voting procedures and polling places — social media versions of the old dirty trick of sending people to the wrong polling place or giving them the wrong instructions.
- The state monitored social media, flagging around 276 posts with false or misleading information; 272 were taken down.
- The office advertised on social media to provide accurate information about voting.
- It also allowed Padilla to directly email correct information, including how to check registration status, to all California residents with email addresses on file.
Emailing residents is a why-doesn't-everyone-do-this type of move. "We are now the one official reliable source of information about the election," says Padilla.
- In California, where there appears to have been the most voters in a midterm since 1982, it provided a second benefit: The rate people called voter help hotlines to find out where to vote decreased.
- That's two wins in most secretaries of state's books — more voters with an easier time voting.
The bottom line: Any state with leaders who honestly aim to maximize security and voter participation could implement all of this, for a price. But the mandate to strengthen the election system, given by everyone from The Incredible Hulk to the vice president, is still unfunded.
- "If it was easy for states to do, then it'd be done already," says Padilla.