With looming fears of foreign interference in last year’s midterm elections, Congress rushed to send almost $6.2 million to help Alabama secure its voting system.
But the state did not spend a dime of it, according to a report this month from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which disbursed the funds. The money came from the so-called omnibus spending bill approved in March 2018.
But Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said the money did not come in time to spend before the November midterm election. In order to spend federal grant money, he told FOX10 News, the state has to going through a competitive bidding process and get companies on an approved vendor list, among other requirements.
“That’s an arduous process, at best,” he said. “We’re not gonna get in a hurry because someone thinks we should be in a hurry to spend it.”
Alabama is not alone. Twenty-three other states also did not spend any of their grants. As the midterms neared, most of the $380 million authorized by Congress remained in state bank accounts. Combined, states and territories spent just 8 percent of the money.
The threat to voting in Alabama is more than theoretical. The Department of Homeland Security in 2017 identified Alabama as one of 21 states targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential election.
But Merrill said at the time that those efforts were unsuccessful.
“While it is important to acknowledge that cyberattacks can happen to anyone we believe a well prepared system and alert team members can prevent major compromises in citizens private data,” he said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Merrill told FOX10 News that the state encountered no hacking attempts in last year’s election.
Merrill, who testified in Congress in February about election security, said the state takes integrity seriously. The Election Assistance Commission report indicates that Alabama has spent nearly all of the funds it has received from two separate pots of money under the Help America Vote Act – more than $40.2 million awarded since 2003 and additional $5 million to improve election administration.
Alabama’s $6.2 billion – plus and additional $308,020 in state matching funds – ultimately will not go to waste. According to the Election Assistance Commission, Alabama officials have indicated they plan to use the funds this year to upgrade and replace voting equipment and guard against hacking. The state also plans to establish statewide auditing procedures.
Merrill told the congressional committee in February that the state wants to purchase more electronic pollbooks, which currently are in use in 30 of the state’s 67 counties.
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