Most are cautiously optimistic that Congress will earmark funds for election offices, assuming there is agreement on more funding, with appropriations officials in both chambers listing $400 million for funding of “election security grants” in initial announcements earlier this year.
But advocates are still concerned about getting the total in the final bill, given the history of federal election financing and the general uncertainty surrounding this year-end appropriations process, or this figure of $400 million being reduced.
“What worries me the most is a situation where no one disputes the need for the funding,” said Sam Oliker-Friedland, a former Justice Department lawyer who is now executive director of the Institute for Responsive. Government. “But people’s minds are elsewhere, and then they get overtaken by priorities that are more important.”
Federal election funding has been sporadic over the past two decades since the last major federal election law – called the Help America Vote Act, which was a response to the chaotic 2000 election – was passed in 2002. There were relatively few grants from 2008 to 2010, according to a CAP report, then nearly a decade without federal funding.
More recently, it has oscillated between heavy funding — there were nine-figure grants in 2018 and 2020 — and next to nothing: $75 million split across all states this year, and nothing in 2021.
Proponents say that doesn’t come close to what officials need to replace aging electoral systems across the country and deal with the rising day-to-day costs of election service budgets that include everything from new security needs following the 2020 election the rising cost of everyday items like ballots.
There has been a quiet lobbying effort, led by an cadre of election-focused groups, to get bipartisan state and local election officials to contact congressional offices in an effort to secure the funding. Those involved said members of both parties had been receptive.
“One of the most positive signals we’ve received about the real viability of this funding that we can get beyond the finish line is the fact that we’ve seen the bipartisan support for this growth even over the last few years. weeks,” said Tiana Epps-Johnson, founder and executive director of the Center for Tech and Civic Life.
Fundraising supporters say part of the rhetoric is that the year-end fight over government funding is really the last chance to secure meaningful federal funding for election administrators before the 2024 election.
While some supplies can be purchased at the last minute, larger purchases and staffing plans take months or even longer to finalize, meaning officials would need the money in 2023 to prepare for the event. presidential election the following year.
“There are a variety of reasons why, from an operational perspective, the election services needed this funding yesterday,” Epps-Johnson said.
Those calling for the funding have argued that while the $400 million would be welcome, it does not address a longer-term need for federal election funding.
Even so, recent funding “represents a tiny, tiny fraction of the election,” said Ryan Williamson, governance researcher at the Conservative Party. thinking group R street.
He added that the best estimate of the cost of a nationwide election is around $2 billion, which “could reach $5 billion in the near future.”
Supporters have long called for a more reliable and steady stream of election funding — hundreds of millions on an annual basis — that allows election officials to plan ahead and make longer-term buying decisions. President Joe Biden’s 2023 budget, for example, provided $10 billion in election funding from the federal government over 10 years, which was widely welcomed in the community even though it was unlikely to become law.
Williamson and others have argued that the federal government is making election planning more difficult by not providing this longer roadmap.
“It’s not so much the dollar amount that matters,” he said. “It’s the regular, predictable amount that allows them to plan and budget. Raising $485 million a few months before an election is helpful, but it’s not the most efficient or effective.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees election finance spending, said at an event hosted by Roll Call and CTCL earlier in the month that he was confident the House would pass an omnibus bill this year. He said he thought the Senate would do the same, noting that both chambers had the figure of $400 million.
But he wondered if a longer-term appropriations plan was in the cards with Republicans soon to take control of the House. “If Republicans have a very narrow margin, their eccentrics will have outsized influence on what they do,” Quigley said, noting there have been a few GOPs. resistance to electoral subsidies in the past. “I just don’t see they’re locked in on this anymore.”