WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel on Thursday approved $250 million in additional federal grants to states and local jurisdictions to improve the security of their voting systems in the run-up to 2020 elections and following Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential race.
The money was included in a spending bill for several federal agencies for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. It still must be considered by the full Senate and House of Representatives, which might not occur for at least a couple months.
Earlier this year, the House approved legislation to add $600 million in new grant money, which would be funneled through the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Last week Republican Senator John Kennedy, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that controls funding for the commission, said he would oppose the additional money. But he was outmaneuvered by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.
Many Republicans oppose federal involvement in elections, which are run autonomously by U.S. states and local jurisdictions.
In a brief interview with Reuters last week, Kennedy said providing more federal dollars would be “another step towards nationalizing the elections.”
Kennedy’s home state of Louisiana is one of just a couple of states with no system of paper ballots or paper backups that is seen as one of the most effective ways to guard against election fraud or electronic voting machine malfunctions.
“My secretary of state can do a better job than the federal government of running an election,” Kennedy said.
The federal funding would not take away state and local control of election systems.
If approved by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the new money would be on top of $380 million appropriated last year to shore up election systems across the United States.
Several U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential race that Trump won against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Election officials nationwide are trying to harden their voting systems amid U.S. intelligence warnings that Russia and other foreign actors were likely to ramp up their cyber attacks and take other actions to try to interfere in the November 2020 presidential and congressional elections.
Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Leslie Adler