Florida’s election supervisors are feeling the squeeze of a short deadline to submit an application for $19 million in federal cybersecurity funding. The applications are due to the Department of State by next Wednesday.
Leon County’s supervisor Mark Earley remembers the 2004 rush to buy electronic voting machines – which have mostly been phased out. He says this time around the scenario is different. Earley believes threats to cybersecurity are “very real.” But, he sees some similarities in the way spending is being rushed along.
“The rush to spend the money back then caused some poor decisions,” Earley said. “We are somewhat faced with a rush to spend the money currently.”
And, Earley says, if the money isn’t fully spent by the general election, it’s not clear if it will be available going forward.
“If we can’t use or allocate all of the funds through the grant process currently, there is no information as to whether these funds will be available in the future. So we’re almost faced with a kind of “use it or lose it” proposition right now,” Earley said.
In Madison County, the poorest county in the state, every bit of funding helps. Election supervisor Tommy Hardee projects Madison will be getting about $63,000 dollars. He says he knows of some immediate needs funds could go toward, but understands how the short window to spend can be problematic.
“They’d have to spend just to be spending. And I don’t think any supervisors would do that,” Hardee said. “But you’re putting them in the current situation in that instance.”
Nearly two dozen local supervisors are meeting this week to discuss the deadlines, including how to best spend what money they get.
Florida’s share is part of $380 million dollars set aside by Congress for election cybersecurity nationwide.