Can the election be secured $1,200 at a time? Wisconsin's counting on it.
Wisconsin, which is expecting to again be among the hardest-fought presidential battlegrounds, is hoping an extremely modest amount of spending will boost the credibility and reliability of its 2020 balloting.
The state Elections Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a $1.1 million program to help cities and towns beef up their election security. Using the federal money received so far, however, the panel will be able to give just $1,200 each to a bit more than half the state's 1,800 municipalities — regardless of size. So Milwaukee (population 600,000) would get the same as Mellen (population 689).
"It's really a meaningless dollar amount. It's a rounding error for some of their things," Commissioner Mark Thomsen told Wisconsin Public Radio, referring to the budget of the state's biggest city and his home town, Milwaukee. "So that may not be the best way we spend federal dollars on security."
Wisconsin's efforts to accomplish meaningful safeguards with minimal money are emblematic of what's happening across the country, where elections are run by some 8,000 different state and local entities and they're all worried the 2020 results could be tarnished by hacking.
The money is part of the $380 million appropriated by Congress a year ago for grants to the states to boost election security. The amount has been widely assailed as inadequate by state governments controlled by both Republicans and Democrats.
And, after resisting entreaties for months, last week Majority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed a Senate plan to deliver another $250 million in time to be spent before Election Day. The House has voted to spend $600 million, though, and the two figures will have to be reconciled as part of budget negotiations that won't climax much before Thanksgiving.
The money is to be spent by January on updating security software, creating computer firewalls or buying new computers in order to protect electronic voting system and voters' personal information. The priority will be getting money to low-tech, mostly rural communities. Clerks in 215 towns are using Windows 7 devices, for example, even though at the end of the year Microsoft will stop providing security updates for that software. About one-third of the communities have told the commission they don't have the cash to buy new gear.
The program comes two years after revelations that Russian hackers tried and failed to break into Wisconsin's voter registration system before the 2016 election. The commission says it has not found evidence the system has ever been compromised.
President Trump carried the state and its 10 electors by 23,000 votes three years ago, one of the biggest surprises of his upset win because it broke a string of seven straight wins in Wisconsin by the Democratic nominee.
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