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WASHINGTON — Hawaii is set to receive about $3.2 million to improve its election and ballot security but state officials aren’t saying yet how they plan to spend it.
Congress approved $380 million this year for states to shore up and enhance election security in light of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Federal officials found that at least 21 states were targeted by hackers during the last election cycle. Hawaii was not one of them.
The Hawaii Office of Elections has struggled in recent years with running out of ballots, misprinting candidate names and failing to open polling places on time.
In 2014, during a high-profile U.S. Senate election between Brian Schatz and Colleen Hanabusa, the office misplaced about 800 mail-in ballots on Maui that went uncounted for days.
That election was ultimately decided by fewer than 1,800 votes out of nearly 234,000 cast.
Nedielyn Bueno, the head of the Hawaii Office of Elections voter services section, said her agency plans to apply for the grant funding, but hasn’t yet completed the paperwork.
Officials have until mid-July to submit their application. She said her office is still working with the state Office of Enterprise Technology Services on a final plan that she expects to have completed later this month.
“We can’t really expound on the details,” Bueno said. “But it’s definitely going to address election technology and election security improvements.”
She said the election office’s final proposal for the $3.2 million will be posted on the agency’s website by the end of the month.
Brenda Bowser Soder, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the agency overseeing distribution of the $380 million, said states can use the new money for a wide range of improvements.
The funding, for instance, can go toward addressing cybersecurity vulnerabilities, providing training to elections staff, or purchasing new electronic voting machines that include a paper record that can be used to verify results.
“A lot of good stories will come from this,” Bowser Soder said. “There’s a whole host of things they can use the money for, and that’s the beauty of the funding.”
As of June 5, the Election Assistance Commission reported that 26 states had already requested 55 percent of the available funds.
The fact that Hawaii was not on that list was concerning to Lisa Gibson, the organizer for Indivisible Hawaii, a branch of the grassroots anti-Trump movement that’s taken hold across the country since the billionaire businessman was elected president.
“Everybody wants a blue wave,” Gibson said. “But what people are not paying attention to is how compromised our voting systems are across the country, and not just from the Russians.”
That’s why Gibson says she is keeping a close eye on the Office of Elections.
The study found shortcomings in how the state conducts its post-election audits as well as the frequency with which it tests its voting machines for accuracy.
It also recommended strengthening its ballot accounting process by requiring election officials to reconcile the number of ballots it uses at an individual polling place with the number of voters who signed in at the location.
According to the report, Hawaii refused to provide information about its cybersecurity standards for the voter registration system, which left the analysis incomplete.
Had the state handed over that information, the report said Hawaii could have received a “C”.
“We have to shine a light on this for people to get involved,” Gibson said.
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