MADISON, Wis. - Clerks around Wisconsin looking to make upgrades to their election systems may be able to do so with the help of new federal grant money.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted unanimously at a meeting Tuesday to create a federally-funded grant program. Clerks and election officials can apply for up to $1,200 to buy new computers and upgrade operating systems.
"From one of my very first meetings here, we talked about multi-factor authentication and I said, 'Boy that's a no-brainer.' And I was told, 'You don't realize how low-tech some of (our 1,800) municipalities are," said Chair Dean Knudson.
Wisconsin was one of 21 states federal authorities notified that Russian operatives tried to hack during the 2016 election cycle.
.@WI_Elections Chair Dean Knudson says he’s “very enthusiastic” about the grant program because it fulfills a need for Wisconsin communities looking to make their election equipment more secure. He says some of the smaller communities are “low-tech.” #news3now pic.twitter.com/hQzgnbEQWh— Rose Schmidt (@RoseSchmidtTV) September 24, 2019
Knudson said Wisconsin has a distributed election management system that makes it resistant to most cyberattacks.
"But it's also always the case that you're only as strong as your weakest links. So it is possible that the overall election integrity mark could be seriously damaged by just a few municipalities having some kind of a serious attack or problem in the week before the election," he said.
Towns and municipalities with the highest need would get priority for the grant money. Clerks from the 7th Congressional District would get first pick because a primary and special election are scheduled there in December and January, respectively, to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy.
Clerks in Madison and Cottage Grove said they likely won't have a need to apply for the grants because they already meet the security requirements, but they are still waiting on information from the commission.
Officials in the village of McFarland and the townships of Dane and Dunn said they would weigh their options and consider applying if it could help bolster their election security.
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