Utah and Idaho get millions of dollars in grant money to fortify election systems

FILE - In this Tuesday, March 8, 2016 file photo, a voter fills out a ballot at the Boise Senior Center during the primary election in Boise, Idaho. Security is one of the main reasons Utah officials are dedicating $2.3 million toward overhauling the voter-registration database. U.S. Election Assistance Commission on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, released a report showing how states plan to spend $380 million allocated by Congress to strengthen voting systems amid threats from Russian and others. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger, File)

Utah and Idaho will use millions of dollars made available to them from federal grants to improve and modernize their voter systems in the wake of foreign meddling in American elections. The state of Utah receives $4.1 million from the Help America Vote Act and plans to use those funds to buy new voting equipment, replace the state’s voter registration database and to train county and state officials on new voter security measures. The state of Idaho, meanwhile, is receiving $3.2 million to secure and modernize their own elections systems.

According to the Associated Press, Utah and Idaho are among dozens of states who are receiving $380 million in grants from the Help America Vote Act enacted by Congress last spring. Threats to American voting systems continue from Russia and others, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The last time Utah bought new equipment for its counties was in 2005. According to a letter sent by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox to the commission, $1.4 million of those funds will be used for the new equipment and reimburse the state and some of its counties for ordering equipment last year without the proper funds to do so.

Approximately $600,000 will be spent on security improvements in Utah that includes training county clerks and information technology staff, $2.3 million will be earmarked for overhauling the voter-registration database (originally created in 2004). The state will use its required matching funds of about $206,000 to upgrade cybersecurity, data reporting and ease of use. The project is expected to be finished by 2022.

The state of Idaho plans to use $1 million of their grant money to upgrade the state’s election system and voter database. Their updated system will include new election night reporting, campaign finance reporting and lobbyist registration. Its estimated cost is $4 million over five years, which means these federal dollars will help cover nearly a quarter of the project. The state has not announced where the rest of the funds will come from.

Idaho will use $581,000 of the federal funds on tightening cybersecurity and $700,000 for election auditing — both of which will cover training for county election officials in the upcoming months.

The money will also be used to help cover the costs of hiring a communications coordinator and cybersecurity policy analyst.

Nationwide, about a quarter of the $380 million will help used to buy new voting equipment. According to the Associated Press, roughly 36% of the overall funds throughout the country will be spent on improving cybersecurity in 41 states and territories.

States have been motivated to improve their voting systems, train local election officials and guard against cyber attacks after it was revealed that Russian hackers targeted election systems in 21 known states in 2016.

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