Gov. DeSantis says state is on the lookout for overseas meddling in FL’s elections; singles out Iran

By: - October 22, 2020 4:48 pm

Credit: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis insisted Thursday that Florida’s elections system is secure against cyber hacking, notwithstanding a raft of emails threatening voters — attributed by federal officials to Iran — in this and other states unless they support President Trump’s re-election.

During a news conference in Fort Myers, the governor said his administration has hardened the system about cyberattacks in light of reports that Florida counties’ computers were penetrated by hackers in 2016.

Since then, the state has subjected these systems and vendors to “stress tests” to identify and fix problems, he said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis Credit: Florida Channel screenshot

“2018 was relatively uneventful. Haven’t seen as much this year, either. But we understand there’s a lot of different things that are out there. We are concerned about China, Russia, Iran,” he said.

“Now, Iran, what they were doing with these emails, that’s kind of trying to get things in the zeitgeist with voters, which is a little bit different from attacking, like, the supervisors’ offices. But still, I mean, that’s a terrorist regime and we don’t want them to be involved in anything we’re doing.”

Reports first emerged on Tuesday about emails sent to individual voters, ostensibly by the right wing Proud Boys organization, warning about reprisals unless the voters supported Trump. The letters warned that the writers had their personal identifying information in hand.

That doesn’t mean the perpetrators penetrated elections systems — considerable amounts of personal voter data are available publicly.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe held a news conference Wednesday night to announce that the real culprit was Iran. Officials said it was the first major interference in the U.S. elections this cycle, following Russian intervention in 2016, as documented by the Mueller report and the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.

He did not divulge his evidence, however, and Iran has denied involvement.

Also on Thursday, elections officials and legal experts said they don’t expect major problems with Florida’s elections but warned of possible delays in reporting results because of larger than usual turnout.

If a delay occurs, it would be because “so many people are voting and so many people are voting early by mail,” said Barry Richard, a Tallahassee lawyer who represented George W. Bush in the 2000 Florida recount case.

Barry Richard. Credit: Greenberg Traurig

That case culminated in Bush v. Gore, in which the U.S. Supreme Court handed the presidency to Bush.

“Delay in itself is not a problem, it’s the nature of the system,” Richard said during a virtual news conference.

“I don’t expect as big of a delay in Florida [as in other states] because Florida requires that the ballots be received by election day. We probably will be way ahead of some states but we still may encounter delay,” Richard said.

“We’ve had four presidential elections since 2000 with no problems,” he said. “There are always localized problems, which are sometimes blown out of proportion, but we’ve had no significant problems in those four elections.”

Richard was joined by Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles and other experts who insisted that voter fraud is unlikely in Florida.

“This [voter fraud] has been largely a construct created by President Trump,” Richard said. ’We have no history of that kind of fraud. We have a history of occasional local fraud, but it would be almost impossible to affect the national election by actual fraud because this country is too big.”

Cowles underscored rules intended to assure a smooth election process.

“Florida has a no photography requirement inside the polling place except a voter can take a picture of their own ballot,” Cowles said. “Poll watchers [and] poll workers are not allowed to wear campaign button stickers, be political, and talk politics in the polling place,” he said.

Richard appealed to news organizations to exercise restraint.

“I believe that the media has an obligation here. The obligation is to be sure that people understand that it may well be a delay. I would urge the media to avoid blowing those localized problems out of proportion, to avoid the problem of early calling of elections in various states. Also, to make sure the public is aware of the things that can be anticipated,” he said.

As for voter intimidation, Cowles acknowledged the intimidating emails but said, overall, “at this point, I am not hearing any of it from the early voting sites.”

Deputy editor Michael Moline contributed to this report.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.