OKLAHOMA CITY – With a runoff primary and midterm election on the horizon, state election officials plan on investing millions of federal grant money to ensure Oklahoma’s voting systems are secure for the future.
Oklahoma is one of all U.S. states and territories that received a total of $380 million in grant money from the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which was included in a $1.3 trillion spending bill signed by President Trump earlier this year.
The state is receiving $5.1 million from HAVA, which was passed in the wake of the 2000 election, and the state is chipping in more than $250,000 in matching funds.
“The funds can be used for a variety of reasons,” said Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax. “We’re going to look at enhancements to our voter registration system, security enhancements and cybersecurity training.”
The announcement of the grant awards earlier this month comes at a time when lawmakers — including Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford — are urging congress to pass the bi-partisan Secure Elections Act. Intelligence officials have warned, and continue to warn, that there are ongoing attempts by Russia to disrupt the country’s political system.
Earlier this month, 12 Russian military intelligence officers were charged with hacking the Clinton presidential campaign and Democratic Party as part of a Kremlin conspiracy to impact the 2016 election.
Oklahoma is one of 21 states that the Department of Homeland Security said was targeted by Russian hackers in 2016. Ziriax said because of the state’s centralized system, voter registration information remained secure, compared to other states where the information is handled at a county level.
“In Oklahoma what they really did, was probe the state system on the outside of it. The perimeter. Not even the election system, which is behind that wall,” Ziriax said, comparing the Russian hacker targeting to a would-be burglar trying to find open doors and windows to a home.
Of the $5.4 million total, $2.5 million will go towards equipment like electronic poll books and document scanners; $1.6 million for voter registration systems; $1 million for security and more than $300,000 for staff training.
“There are any number of entities that would love to create chaos in our country and in our election systems and it’s important that election officials take that seriously and do everything we can to reduce risks.”