In order to strengthen the security of voting systems and improve election processes, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea announced this week the allocation of grant money to every Rhode Island city and town.
The allocated grant money, $100,000 in total, is part of Rhode Island’s share of $3 million from Congress under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
Based on the number of voters who cast a ballot in 2018, towns received various amounts of grant money, with a minimum of $1,000, including South Kingstown ($3,278), Narragansett ($1,819), North Kingstown ($3,398), East Greenwich ($1,719) and Coventry ($3,631).
The funds were allocated after Gorbea, who serves as the state’s chief elections official under HAVA, convened a task force to determine how to spend and prioritize the funds designated for the state through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018. The funds must be used to acquire equipment, systems or technology that improve election administration or security on a local level.
Gorbea said that the grant money would help protect one of the most fundamental aspects to our democracy.
“The security of our elections is fundamental to our democracy,” said Secretary Gorbea. “We need to constantly assess and improve our systems on the federal, state and local levels.”
She went on to thank the members of the congressional delegation, including Sen. Jack Reed, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rep. James Langevin and Rep. David Cicilline, who she said “were instrumental in securing HAVA funding in Congress.”
For communities to be eligible for grant funding, city and town election officials had to submit a project description to the Department of State outlining how the money will be used, giving communities the responsibility of maintaining accurate records of how the money is spent, and they must submit a final financial accounting to the Department of State.
Gorbea said she and her office will be working closely with each community to help them identify areas where the funds can best be directed.
“My office will contact each community to identify some elections-related uses for their funds,” said Gorbea. “Things like updating antivirus and malware programs, firewalls, new scanning equipment, online security and phishing training for election officials, and systems that detect potential network attacks.”
Though local officials weren’t certain as to what the funds would be used for, they were adamant that protecting the security of voting systems was vitally important to the fairness of elections.
Narragansett Town Clerk Teri Donovan said that town staff would be working with Gorbea’s office to determine what specific technology needs required additional funding.
“We just received word of the grant awards and I know that they’ll have some parameters for us, I’m sure, as far as what are acceptable uses and what might not be,” Donovan said. “We all have technology needs, so I’m sure we won’t have any problem determining what we could find a use for but we’re going to wait and see what the secretary of state’s office has as far as guidelines about what it can be used for, because we have not received that yet.”
Regardless, she said that the town was grateful to Gorbea’s office for allocating the funds, which she said would help secure the “integrity of the election process.”
“As they would be valuable in any community,” Donovan added. “Election security and integrity of the process is something that’s important to every election official. Just because we’re a smaller community doesn’t mean that we don’t run the same risks and have the same needs.”
And South Kingstown Town Clerk Dale Holberton said that town staff would be brainstorming with Gorbea’s office to decide what the funds will be used for.
“We’re pretty sophisticated as far as firewalls and things like that, so we’ll probably be looking at equipment needs,” Holberton said. “There’s no definite as to what we’ll be using that for.”
“We want the integrity of our systems to be the best that we can be, so if we can get the proper equipment and proper security systems in place, and everybody believes in our system and the integrity of our systems, than we can go forward with fair elections,” the town clerk added.