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Need Better Election Security? The Feds Can Help.

Keeping election workers and voters safe in a politically charged environment is an expensive challenge. Federal resources are available, and local election officials should take advantage of them now to get ready for 2024.

Law-enforcement officers watch over a ballot drop-off site in Phoenix
Law enforcement officers watch over a ballot drop-off site in Phoenix on Nov. 7, 2022, during the midterm elections.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
As local election officials in perennial battleground states, we know the stakes are high as we start planning for next year’s presidential election. While Durham County, N.C., and Dane County, Wis., are more than 900 miles apart, the two of us have a lot in common: It’s our job to help keep our election workers and voters safe in an often politically charged environment while running secure and accurate elections.

Doing that today requires more resources than ever before. With the first presidential primaries looming and the annual budget process launching in many jurisdictions, local election officials should act now to access federal election security resources that have been critical to our successful efforts ahead of the 2024 election to obtain the funding necessary to conduct safe and secure elections.

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated election infrastructure as critical infrastructure, declaring it “of such vital importance to the American way of life that its incapacitation or destruction would have a devastating effect on the country.” This allowed DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to offer free services and resources, largely aimed at improving resiliency against cyber or physical attack, to local election officials like us.

While we primarily rely on local resources to do our job, these federal resources provide key supplemental support. For example, we have both taken advantage of CISA’s free, in-person physical security assessments of buildings and other infrastructure, which include written reports with customized recommendations for improvements.

Last year, while CISA officials were in Scott’s office conducting their review, they got a firsthand look at the security concerns local election officials face. A man dressed in camouflage and a face mask created a disturbance as he attempted to open locked doors throughout the building, including to Scott’s office. The man left before police arrived, but CISA officials cited this incident in their report, which identified the absence of basic physical security safeguards appropriate for critical infrastructure.

Unfortunately, our security concerns are not unique. Like many other election officials, we have been personally threatened. And we worry about the safety of our staff and colleagues, a concern expressed by nearly half of local election officials in a survey by the Brennan Center for Justice. The good news is that there is still time for election officials to take steps to make strategic physical security improvements ahead of the 2024 election.

CISA’s assessments identified multiple recommendations that we could quickly implement, such as adding plexiglass dividers to protect staff, setting up panic buttons and installing additional security cameras. Many election officials have similarly been able to implement at least some of the recommendations, according to the Brennan survey.

In addition, these assessments helped us to obtain funding for new, safer buildings. Although we work in comparatively well-resourced jurisdictions and enjoy solid relationships with county budget officials, it is still challenging to convince appropriators — who after all are responsible for backing new fire trucks, road repairs, schools and numerous other local needs — to prioritize physical security at election buildings. Providing them with the CISA reports sent a strong message that funding improvements should be a priority. The result: Dane County officials approved $12 million for a new clerk’s office, and Durham County officials approved $20 million to purchase a vacant shopping center that will house a consolidated facility for the Board of Elections.

We’ve also benefited from federal funds available for election security, like the Help America Vote Act election security grants and the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP). Applications have closed for this year’s HSGP funding, but now is the time to talk with chief election officials and state administrative agencies about next year. While these grants are insufficient to pay for all election security costs, the very fact that they exist signals to local appropriators that election security is a national priority.

Strategically investing in election infrastructure will also strengthen the ability of other local officials, such as those in law enforcement, to do their part in protecting election workers and voters. It’s why organizations such as the National Association of Counties and the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections support commonsense policies to help bolster physical security. We encourage our colleagues around the country to access these federal resources now and to contact us if we can be helpful in any way.

Derek Bowens is the director of elections in Durham County, N.C. He can be reached at Scott McDonell is the county clerk in Dane County, Wis. He can be reached at Both are members of the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections.

Governing’s opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing’s editors or management.
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