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Chairwoman Nita Lowey and her fellow Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee pushed through a huge increase in grants for election security and the operating budget for the agency that administers the grants.

House appropriators approve increased spending on election security

Saying the United States is "woefully underprepared" to defend against hacking of its election systems, the House Appropriations Committee this week approved $600 million for election security grants to state and local election agencies.

In addition to nearly doubling the grants total (from $380 million), the committee also voted to increase the operating budget of the Election Assistance Commission, which administers the grants, to $16.2 million for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. That's a 75 percent jump.

All 30 Democrats on the committee voted to approve the bill that includes the commission funding, while all 21 Republicans voted against it.

The report accompanying the bill states that the "country's patchwork of voting systems is woefully underprepared to withstand efforts by sophisticated nation-states to hack the election process and influence election outcomes."

Election officials lack funding to replace old voting machines and ensure that voter registration databases are safe from hackers, the report states. Various investigations have documented that Russian agents were able to break into voter registration databases and other records during the 2016 election, calling into question the legitimacy of the election systems.

Meanwhile, the legislation that includes the EAC funding would also provide $71.5 million to the Federal Election Commission, which oversees the campaign finance system for federal candidates. That's an increase of $247,000 compared to the current fiscal year.

In their report, committee Democrats state the Appropriations panel is worried that the FEC's staffing request is not designed to handle the additional workload created the growing number of small-dollar donations flooding in to candidates. Digital political advertising set a record of $1.4 billion in the 2016, according to the report, and total political advertising may reach $20 billion in 2020.

If the appropriations process were to proceed as defined, the full House would take up the bill and the Senate would approve its own version. Then a joint House-Senate conference committee would hammer out a compromise. So far, the GOP-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee has not taken up any spending bills for the next fiscal year.

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We can and must embrace our diversity as the operating system of our nation, write the leaders of the Bridge Alliance.

Diverse people must be in every room where decisions are made

Molineaux and Nevins are co-founders of the Bridge Alliance, a coalition of 100 democracy strengthening organizations. (Disclosure: The Bridge Alliance Education Fund is a funder of The Fulcrum.)

As we look to history, it has always been the mystics and scientists, innovators and outliers who saw the future most clearly and acted to push — or call — society forward, to awaken from our slumber of the way things are and envision a better future. The stories of their personal transformation inspire us to be better individually and collectively. With this inspiration, we can and must transform our nation into a more perfect union.

As co-founders of the Bridge Alliance, we are inspired and challenged by the problems facing our country. Our 100 member organizations work daily to protect the ideals of our American Dream so we can create healthy self-governance that has never fully existed before. Our members work to harness the tension of our differences as we enact our inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, balancing individual and community needs.

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The Federal Voting Assistance Program assists military members who need to vote via absentee ballot. A spokeswoman for the Defense Department said there would be "minimal disruptions" if the United States pulls out of the international postage agency.

Costs to mail ballots may skyrocket for civilians, military living overseas

Election officials are growing increasingly concerned that the Trump administration's trade war with China could make it more difficult and expensive for overseas voters — including those in the military — to cast ballots in the 2019 and 2020 local, state and federal elections.

The issue is the pending withdrawal in October by the U.S. from the Universal Postal Union, a group of 192 nations that has governed international postal service and rates for 145 years.

Last October, the U.S. gave the required one-year notice stating it would leave the UPU unless changes were made to the discounted fees that China pays for shipping small packages to the United States. The subsidized fees — established years ago to help poor, developing countries — place American businesses at a disadvantage and don't cover costs incurred by the U.S. Postal Service.

With the U.S.-imposed deadline for withdrawal or new rates fast approaching, states officials are running out of time to prepare for overseas mail-in voting.

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