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A $20 billion bill in Congress would help every state make elections more secure with predictable funding.

COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON SECRETARY OF STATE'S OFFICE - Oregon Secretary of State Shemia FaganElections systems in the United States are considered critical infrastructure. That means that like energy, food and transportation, they must be modern, secure and properly maintained. Afterall, these systems support our fundamental political right — the right to vote.

Unfortunately, we don't fund elections like critical infrastructure. According to the Election Infrastructure Initiative, a nonpartisan partnership of elections officials, nonprofits, counties and state governments, Oregon is $767,477,251 short of what it needs to fully fund elections over the next 10 years.

I love Oregon's vote-by-mail system. Over the last few decades, Republicans and Democrats alike have built a system that is the gold standard for modern, secure and transparent elections. In just the last few years we made significant innovations like automatic voter registration, we changed the postmark requirement to make sure all on-time ballots are counted, and we began translating the voters pamphlet.

But with all these changes, we haven't created long-term, consistent funding that meets our needs. That's why I'm joining elections officials across the country in calling on Congress to approve a $20 billion investment in election infrastructure over the next 10 years. States like Oregon need this critical investment.

The current needs are stark and local elections officials are working under challenging conditions. Since the 2020 election, we have seen an increased focus on elections administration. That's brought more records requests, disinformation campaigns, and media attention — all of which takes work that isn't factored into existing budgets. Many elections officials are also in charge of technology projects, maintenance, security and reporting required by an increasingly complex system of laws and administrative rules.

Vote-by-mail is also a people-heavy process. Instead of hitting a button on an electronic voting machine, in Oregon we're opening and counting paper ballots. That brings enormous security benefits, but it requires a lot of staff. What we're missing is a coherent strategy for funding local elections that takes all this into account.

I hear about these issues from Oregon's county elections officials all the time. When I've travelled to national conferences or spoken with secretaries of state from other parts of the country, I hear the same stories. All across our country, we are underinvesting in the critical infrastructure that makes our democracy work.

Fortunately, there is bipartisan support from secretaries of state, local election officials and mayors for Congress to make this needed investment. We just need Congress to act.

Shemia Fagan formerly served in the Legislature and was elected Oregon secretary of state in 2020. She was born in Dufur, raised in The Dalles and lives in Clackamas.

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