Voters fill out advanced ballots Oct. 25, 2022, at the Shawnee County Election Office in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of former U.S. lawmakers on the National Council on Election Integrity called on Congress on Friday to spend $400 million on election integrity to insulate the system from foreign interference.
“The Department of Homeland Security designated our election system as critical infrastructure in 2017,” the four wrote in a letter. “However, that designation was not accompanied by regular or adequate federal funding.”
“In each of the last two years, Congress appropriated just $75 million for Election Security Grants — a fraction of the funds needed to secure our elections in this dynamic threat environment,” they added.
The co-chairs of the council — former Virginia Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, former Maryland Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards, former Indiana Democratic Rep. Tim Roemer and former Tennessee Republican Rep. Zach Wamp — wrote in the letter they are “deeply concerned that election officials are currently not receiving the federal support that they need to strengthen and secure federal elections in 2024 and beyond.”
The National Council on Election Integrity, which began ahead of the 2020 presidential elections, includes about 40 civic and political leaders focused on “defending the legitimacy of our free and fair elections,” according to its website.
Congress’ annual government funding process began earlier this month when President Joe Biden sent his budget request for fiscal 2024 to Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will spend the next few months holding hearings on the proposal with Cabinet secretaries and agency heads before they turn to writing the dozen annual government funding measures this summer.
Election security grants are just one request among thousands that Democrats and Republicans will weigh throughout the year as the House GOP looks for ways to reduce federal spending without significantly impacting Social Security, Medicare or defense programs.
Efforts to reduce federal spending to the last fiscal year’s level emerged in early January when Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, negotiated behind closed doors with several conservative members to secure the role of speaker amid ongoing opposition.
McCarthy reportedly made several promises during those meetings, including reducing federal spending to fiscal 2022 levels, though he and conservatives have never made details of their agreements public.
McCarthy has insisted that House Republicans will not raise the nation’s borrowing capacity, known as the debt limit, unless Biden signs off on spending cuts.
But Republicans have yet to release their fiscal 2024 budget resolution or any of the dozen appropriations bills that fund account for about one-third of annual federal spending.
House Budget Chair Jodey Arrington, a Texas Republican, told reporters Thursday that he was putting together a “deal sheet” that would detail the spending cuts the House GOP wants in exchange for not defaulting on the nation’s debt, according to Bloomberg.
McCarthy said Friday morning that he didn’t know what Arrington was talking about, when asked to explain the move during a press conference.
Looking at budgets
House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger, a Texas Republican, said in a written statement Wednesday that “House Republicans made a promise to get our fiscal house in order, and we intend to do exactly that.”
“We have the opportunity to take a hard look at department and agency budgets, find ways to reduce spending, and reform federal programs so we can prevent waste, fraud, and abuse,” Granger said. “That’s reasonable and responsible, and it is our duty to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. This work will not be easy, but we’ll get it done.”
The National Council on Election Integrity’s request in the Friday letter for $400 million in election security grants during fiscal 2024 would be a fraction of the $1.7 trillion that could be spent on discretionary programs during the upcoming fiscal year.
“In the last few years, state and local election officials have had to become experts in cybersecurity, digital communication, and public relations,” the former members wrote.
“At the same time, election offices are struggling to bear rising costs for physical security, information requests, and basic necessities like ballot paper,” they added. “Because Congress has not provided the funding to meet these obligations, state and local election officials have been saddled with an unfunded mandate.”
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