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McConnell backs $250M in election security funding after long resistance

The Senate majority leader had been blocking legislation for election security funding for more than a year.

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Sen. Mitch McConnell's amendment is facing criticism, as the $250 million in funding doesn't provide any specifics on what election officials can and can't spend that money on. 

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This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET's coverage of the voting in November and its aftermath.

After months of blocking additional funding for election security measures, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shifted his stance, backing an additional $250 million to help protect the vote

On Thursday, the Republican from Kentucky announced on the Senate floor that he will support an amendment to give election officials more resources as the 2020 race for the White House approaches. 

"I'm proud to have co-sponsored and helped develop a bipartisan committee amendment that will provide another $250 million to help states administer and secure our elections," McConnell said in a statement. "Since 2018, we will have allocated more than $600 million for supporting and securing our elections while protecting states' flexibility from Washington overreach." 

This comes after more than a year of McConnell arguing against additional funding for election security. Democratic lawmakers  have been pushing for more resources for local election officials, who need funds to replace outdated, vulnerable voting machines, as well as money to train staff on cybersecurity practices. 

While government officials often note that no votes have been altered by hackers, voting machines are vulnerable to potential cyberattacks. Researchers found that voting machines that are still used in 40 states have vulnerabilities, while Russian hackers had infiltrated voter databases in multiple states

Congress approved a $380 million spending bill to fund election security in 2018, but many state election officials said that it wasn't enough. Senate Democrats pushed for bills that would improve election security like requiring paper ballots and providing more funding, which were blocked by McConnell in July

At the time, the Senate majority leader called the bills "partisan legislation."

At the Defcon hacking conference in August, Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, called out McConnell specifically for blocking the bills and compromising election security.

McConnell's backed amendment is still facing criticism, as the $250 million in funding doesn't provide any specifics on what election officials can and cannot spend that money on. While other election security bills have required security measures like paper ballots, the amendment does not. 

"Giving states taxpayer money to buy hackable, paperless machines or systems with poor cybersecurity is waste," Wyden said in a statement.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, has backed legislation like the Election Security Act, which would require paper ballots and fund local officials. He said McConnell should be doing more than providing funding to protect elections. 

"Additional funding for election security is a necessary but not sufficient part of securing our elections against foreign attack. Until Leader McConnell allows bipartisan election security legislation to proceed, our elections will remain vulnerable to manipulation by foreign actors," Warner said in a statement. 

Originally published Sept. 19, 9:48 a.m. PT.
Update, 11:04 a.m. PT: Includes a comment from Sen. Ron Wyden.