(Bloomberg) -- Congressional negotiators have eliminated $500 million in election security grants to the states from a final version of a measure to fund the U.S. government into 2021, a top House Democrat says.
That development comes as President Donald Trump and his allies continue to promote unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in the Nov. 3 election, even though their allegations have been rejected by courts and state election officials.
Mike Quigley, the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, said Wednesday he’d been told that the omnibus funding package being worked out with Senate negotiators “zeros out” the state assistance money.
Quigley, who also serves on the House Intelligence Committee and is an enthusiastic proponent of the grants, called the move short-sighted and the timing “inexplicable,” especially given the threat of cyber attacks and other vulnerabilities faced by voting systems.
Evan Hollander, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey of New York, declined to confirm that the money was not included.
The chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Ben Hovland, said in an interview Wednesday night that he had not been told officially of the fate of the $500 million and that, “it’s not done until it’s done.”
Hovland, who was nominated by Trump, said Congress had appropriated a total of about $800 million for election security grants in fiscal years 2018 and 2020. In some years, however, grants were not included.
The money, distributed under a formula, can be used by states to replace outdated voting systems and paperless equipment and strengthen voter registration data bases, some of which have been the targets of foreign interference. Other grant money has gone toward the training of elections officials to prepare for and protect against cyber intrusions.
“I hope that we do see it’s just crucial that we keep investing in our elections. When your talk about election administration, you’re about You’re really talking about the infrastructure of our democracy,” Hovland said. He added that if the $500 million was not in the package, “I hope that we can have a real conversation about how to get it in the next one.”
Matt Weil, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Elections Project, agreed. “I would encourage Congress to provide consistent, reliable funding to the states so that they can prepare for the long term,” he said.
Hovland said there were now a lot of safeguards in place and that 2020 actually was “the most secure election that we’ve ever had” even if “some Americans are now questioning the process.”
“We’ve had a lot of distraction and accusations since Election Day,” he said, “that we really haven’t seen any evidence of in court,”