MADISON, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) – The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) spent Thursday evening approving election security grants for counties across the state.

In June, WEC approved a sub-grant program for counties using money from the federal Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA) fund.

What You Need To Know

  • Commissioners unanimously approved divvying up federal election security grants to 57 counties across Wisconsin

  • The money will be used to upgrade computer firewalls, voting equipment, and intrusion detection

  • The maximum grant amount is $35,000 plus 30 cents for every eligible voter in the county

The HAVA Election Security Funds were appropriated in 2018 and 2020. The two HAVA election security fund appropriations, which are authorized from the Help Americans Vote Act of 2002, are the first new appropriations for HAVA grants since FY2010.

Wisconsin counties could apply for a base grant of up to $35,000 plus $.30 per eligible voter.

WEC received requests from 60 counties totaling nearly $4.2 million, meaning some counties requested more money than the nearly $3.3 million allocated—just in case extra funds become available in the future.

12 counties did not apply at all.

“The purpose of the proposal is that all the counties would get something because I can't imagine they don't need anything, and I just want to make sure before this whole process ends we give every county a fair share to do it,” WEC Vice-Chair Mark Thomsen said.

Many of the counties that did not apply for grant funding said they feel they are in a good spot with election security. However, commissioners voted to allow WEC staff to reach out and work more with those counties.

To be eligible for the funds, counties had to meet three requirements:

  • That the county have, or use requested funds to, upgrade to an HTTPS protocol for their website
  • That the county have, or use requested funds to upgrade to, a secure email service
  • That the county conduct, or use requested funds to conduct, a deliberate cybersecurity assessment of their election-related systems

WEC unanimously approved grants for 55 counties: Barron, Bayfield, Brown, Buffalo, Calumet, Chippewa, Clark, Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Door, Douglas, Dunn, Eau Claire, Florence, Fond Du Lac, Green, Green Lake, Jackson, Jefferson, Juneau, Kenosha, Kewaunee, Lafayette, Lincoln, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marinette, Marquette, Oconto, Oneida, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Polk, Portage, Price, Racine, Rock, Rusk, Sauk, Sawyer, Shawano, Sheboygan, St. Croix, Taylor, Trempealeau, Vernon, Vilas, Walworth, Washburn, Washington, Waukesha, Waupaca, Winnebago, and Wood.

Partial approval was given for La Crosse and Waushara counties.

WEC also directed staff to allocate the funds requested (up to $35,000 base and $.30 per eligible voter) to the 57 counties.

Staff will follow-up with Iron, La Crosse, Langlade, Milwaukee, and Waushara counties to better understand how their proposals would improve cybersecurity and meet the terms of the grant.

Counties had to outline how they would use the money to improve their election security.

“If it's just, 'my budget looks better if I could buy new voting machines instead of the security,' we wind up with some counties having new voting machines but no security and that seems to be sort of contrary to the original game plan we had on this grant program,” WEC Chair Ann Jacobs said.

A majority of counties want to use the money for a security assessment, while others would spend funds on voting equipment and firewall upgrades.