election security funding
Traffic backs up near the Oklahoma County Election Board offices along North Lincoln Boulevard on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020 for early voting in the presidential election. (Michael Duncan)

The public is paying more attention than ever to our electoral process as we head toward November. People absolutely should be, as the United States faces more threats — foreign and domestic — to the safety and integrity of our elections than ever.

However, as voters clamor for reassurances that our process is free and fair and that every ballot is counted accurately, many are unaware of how Congress has dramatically decreased appropriations for election security. It’s time that Washington returns to a more reliable cadence of investments in this critical arena.

Oklahoma is unique in our administration of elections. No matter where you live, our voting mechanics are the same, with paper ballots marked directly by voters and counted by a reliable scanning system. I was proud to support the oversight of such efficient execution of elections throughout my time as mayor of Edmond. But needs evolve, and so do the threats to our system. This is the case not just in Oklahoma, but across the nation. Our collective democratic institutions are in need of constant attention, investment and prioritization by lawmakers at all levels of government.

As Congress gears up to deliberate the Fiscal Year 2025 appropriations plan in the coming weeks, with key committee markups scheduled for early June, there is an evident need to return to previous investment levels. In the FY 2024 spending package, only $55 million was allotted to election security grants through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) program. This reduced figure follows years of steady federal investment in modernizing our election infrastructure under the previous administration — totaling approximately $400 million in fiscal years 2018 and 2020. Congress must return to a $400 million investment in the FY 2025 appropriations package to ensure our future elections can benefit from enhanced infrastructure and security measures.

Oklahoma’s voting machines, in use across all 77 counties, were purchased with funds from the HAVA program by the Oklahoma State Election Board in 2012. We’ve used these funds before, and we should be ready to use them again.

Keeping up with latest technology is crucial

While our elections have continued to run well, unreliable and decreasing investments could expose us to future vulnerabilities in our electoral processes. Additionally, our resilient election officials, poll workers and volunteers — who make every election possible — are counting on reliable funds to continue doing their jobs successfully.

And at the end of the day, this is not just about the efficiency of our election system and ensuring poll workers and other election officials are properly supported. This is about protecting our national security, as well. As bad actors continue to try to interfere in our elections and foster distrust in our democratic system, we must prepare to fight off such efforts. Keeping up with the latest technology will be crucial in that pursuit.

As a fiscal conservative, I agree that we must be vigilant with our federal spending, but the security of our election system is not something we can let slip through the cracks.

Thankfully, Oklahomans are represented by leadership in Washington in a unique position to advance and prioritize these investments. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK5) have done an outstanding job balancing a commitment to fiscal responsibility with support for funding the real needs of our state and district. Furthermore, Oklahoma now benefits from the new appointment of Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK4) as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He has shown a steady hand throughout his tenure in Congress, and we look forward to his leadership on these and other issues.

Reinstating a robust investment to preserve our democratic system will enable our election workers to carry out reliable, safe and secure elections, while preparing our state and nation for evolving 21st-century threats.