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$4.6 Million for Utah in Federal Ballot Security Funding

Congress has allocated $425 million to shore up election security ahead of the 2020 presidential election. (roibu/Adobe Stock)
Congress has allocated $425 million to shore up election security ahead of the 2020 presidential election. (roibu/Adobe Stock)
December 23, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY -- Tucked inside the trillion-dollar budget approved by Congress last week is a measure allocating $425 million to states for election security. The line item will provide grant funds to all 50 states to protect against the types of interference caused by cyber-attacks during the 2016 election.

Utah is expected to get $4.6 million, but the state hasn't indicated how the money will be spent. Patrick Thompson, technology director with the government watchdog group Alliance for a Better Utah, said because a majority of Utah's ballots are cast by mail, there are fewer opportunities for voting data to be hacked.

"The way the majority of voters in Utah vote is through mail-in ballots. Ballots are sent out X number of days before the election and voters can make their choices," Thompson said. "They can consult the internet, they can think about it and then, mail the ballot back in and it's tabulated."

Utah officials have previously used ballot security funds to buy new voting machines, upgrade the voter registration database and conduct training sessions for county clerks. State officials have previously said they found no evidence of any ballot interference in Utah during the 2016 election.

Thompson said voters always have the option to cast ballots at a polling place, but he added most of the state's voting machines and ballot-counting equipment are not on a network and so they should be out of the reach of hackers. He said the main improvement his group is suggesting is for the state to fine-tune its post-election audit system.

"After the votes are collected, then they audit a selection of the votes or the machines," he said. "And a better solution that Utah could move to would be using a statistically significant amount of ballots, depending on how close that specific election is."

The Brennan Center for Justice has estimated it will take just over $2 billion over five years to put the U.S. elections system beyond the reach of foreign interference. Utah's primary elections are set for March 3, and the General Election is November 3.

Mark Richardson/Cynthia Bishop Jonas, Public News Service - UT