John Dickson, principal at the cyber firm Denim Group, says there are two risks that election officials are attempting to address with the funds: technical risk and political risk.
“Because they have a limited amount of time to put these resources to work, it’s almost obvious that you would focus on the crown jewels—you’d spend at the state level protecting the infrastructure at the state level,” Dickson explains. “The problem is, the voting machines out there are crazy—there are thousands of them—so if you were to just disburse the money to all the counties, it would have no meaningful impact. But, politically, the secretaries of state can’t hoard the money.”
Dickson, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer who lives in San Antonio, has met with election officials from Texas, Missouri, and Kansas, and had conversations with officials from an additional 12 U.S. states.
Most of these conversations have focused on how to beef up election security in the limited time leading up to the November midterm elections.
“A common theme I’ve heard was that they are going to try to spend it in a wise way but recognize that this might be as much about the 2020 election as it is the 2018 midterm elections,” Dickson says. “Right now, there are 50 different states that are looking to do this 50 different ways. It’s an exercise in democracy watching how this plays out.”
While each state and territory will take its own approach to spending the funds, Dickson cautions against spending all of the money on hardware—such as upgraded voting machines that create paper trails of votes.