The Phoenix Flyer

FL counties will get bucks to spend for online election security

By: - June 17, 2019 5:06 pm
early voting booth

Voting booths.

On the eve of President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign kickoff in Orlando, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promised Monday to dedicate some $5 million so that county elections officials can beef up their internet security systems.

But DeSantis wouldn’t commit to informing Floridians if the state suffers any more breaches by Russian hackers.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election said one Florida county had its online elections infrastructure penetrated by hackers. DeSantis later said hackers penetrated elections systems in two counties, but wouldn’t name them, saying he signed a confidentiality agreement with federal authorities. News organizations subsequently identified one of the victims as Washington County.

“If we identify a vulnerability, that is not something that’s going to be put out, because we’d be telegraphing to our adversaries, ‘Hey, this is where Florida is weakest.’ Those are going to be addressed in ways that are consistent with the law enforcement exceptions” to the state’s open government laws, the governor said.

However, “if there’s something that has already happened that going public is not going to hinder our efforts to address it, I’m happy to do that.”

Authorities have said no votes were compromised by the computer hacking.

Flanking DeSantis during a news conference in the Capitol were his appointed Secretary of State, Laurel Lee, and elections supervisors from seven counties, including Levy County’s Tammy Jones, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.

The federal government provided $19 million for election security during the 2018 midterms, but some counties were forced to return money to the state because they couldn’t meet the state’s deadlines and other restrictions for spending it. Only six counties managed it – Charlotte, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Suwannee, Union, and Walton.

DeSantis ordered Secretary of State Lee on May 22 to review election security in every county. On Monday, he announced that Lee has settled on a “comprehensive, multiphase plan to review and fortify Florida’s election system,” first assessing how secure the system is, identifying vulnerabilities, and addressing any problems. State and local officials will confer with federal officials, too, he said.

The Legislature this year refused DeSantis’ request to finance a cybersecurity unit within the state Division of Elections. DeSantis said he might ask again when the Legislature reconvenes next year. “I want to see how all this works,” the governor said of the review. “The issue of cyber is not going away.”

“If we need more resources, we’ll ask for it in the budget coming up next year,” DeSantis said. “I hope it is. I hope we don’t have any vulnerabilities. We’ll just have to wait and see. This is an ongoing process.”

There’s been no indication that hackers interfered with state elections systems during 2018, he said.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.