States will get $400 million to make voting in the coronavirus presidential election easier and safer, but with almost no strings attached, under the massive economic recovery package unveiled Wednesday.
The pot of money in the nearly $2 trillion stimulus deal, on a fast track to pass the Senate by day's end with the House vote timetable uncertain, is the result of an unusually intense and coordinated lobbying campaign by some of the major players in the democracy reform movement.
While celebrating a rare victory for one of their causes, some groups nonetheless said they would seek much more money in what's likely to be another pandemic response package from Congress this spring. These groups warned the initial infusion of cash will prove insufficient to prevent justifiable anxiety about voting this fall, and that an absence of any legislative mandates will allow too much of the grant money to get spent unwisely.
States may buy hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and masks with their federal grant money for bolstering election security.
That permission was granted Tuesday by the Election Assistance Commission, the latest example of how the novel coronavirus is reshaping the exercise of democracy this year.
The news about the Election Assistance Commission in President Trump's new budget isn't so bad after all.
On first blush, it appeared the EAC was not going to get any help in trying to rebuild itself from a series of budget cutbacks and staff turnover. After all, the bottom line in the budget proposal released last week was a proposed cut of $2.1 million, or 14 percent, from this year's $15.2 million in spending.
But, the agency points out, if you look at the fine print, the operating budget being proposed is actually slightly higher than the current year's operating budget.
President Trump's proposed budget for next year includes a mix of good and bad news for those interested in democracy and elections.
The plan he unveiled Monday would cut spending 14 percent at the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency tasked with making sure voting machines are reliable and therefore at the center of efforts to prevent foreign hacking. The $2 million reduction for the fiscal year starting in October would come just as the office is starting to recover after a long run of staffing and budget cuts.
At the same time, the budget calls for spending $1.1 billion on cybersecurity through the Department of Homeland Security. This would increase from 1,800 to more than 6,500 the number of network assessments the agency can conduct, including those of "state and local electoral systems," the budget proposal says.