By Mark Richardson
The 2020 federal budget deal approved by Congress this week has $425 million earmarked to strengthen election security across the country. Arizona is scheduled to get $8.4 million from the fund, but state officials say it’s too early to tell how they will spend it.
The Brennan Center for Justice estimates it will take more than $2 billion over five years to bring the U.S. election system beyond the reach of foreign interference similar to what happened during the 2016 election.
Thomas Collins, director of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission, says its goal is to make sure the almost four million registered voters in Arizona can get reliable information.
“The thing that all of us are focused on is ensuring that there are mechanisms in place to provide information to the public, and talk to the public about where they can find trusted information,” says Collins.
The Brennan Center identifies four main election-security needs: cybersecurity support for local jurisdictions, upgrades to voter registration computer systems, replacing antiquated voting machines, and implementing post-election audits of unofficial election results.
Collins says Arizona has begun taking steps to protect its election results, at the polling station and in the counting room.
“There are steps to prevent the kinds of speculation about vote changes or vote total changes,” says Collins. “Machines are air-gapped, and then the counting machines are air-gapped from the machines that upload the result. What ‘air-gapping’ means is, they’re not going to be connected to the Internet at all.”
But while other improvements are needed to strengthen ballot security in the state, Collins says the best approach is to “immunize” voters against “fake news.”
“It’s the person who knows where to find information about the process to vote,” says Collins. “An informed voter is immune, or is building up an immunity, to the kinds of misinformation that may be out there.”
The Arizona Secretary of State’s office is the central authority for elections, although most are administered at the county and local level. The state’s Presidential Preference election is March 17, and the General Election is November 3.
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