Amid Election Security Concerns, Florida Governor Orders Statewide Review
By Steven Lemongello
Gov. Ron DeSantis is calling for a sweeping review of election systems security and cyber security across the state in the wake of revelations that Russian hackers infiltrated two counties in 2016.
DeSantis directed Secretary of State Laurel Lee to initiate the review, saying, "Public faith in our elections is the bedrock of our democracy and we must do everything within our power to preserve the integrity of our elections systems."
The Mueller report indicated the FBI believed Russian hackers sent more than 120 "spearphishing" emails to elections officials throughout the state in 2016.
The FBI told DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and the state Congressional delegation last week that two county elections systems were breached in the attack, but the bureau barred them from publicly identifying the counties.
On Friday, the Washington Post and Politico reported Washington County in the Panhandle was one of the affected counties.
Washington elections supervisor Carol Rudd stated she could neither confirm nor deny the reports and refused to respond to a South Florida Sun Sentinel public records request, citing "national security" and stating, "Information such as that which you are requesting could aid actors trying to harm our democratic process."
Politico reported the second county could be a mid-sized county on the east coast. Volusia, Duval and Broward counties have all stated they received the counterfeit "VR Systems" email in 2016 but insisted it was either quarantined or its attachment was not opened.
The FBI said there was "no evidence" that voter rolls were changed, but U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Miami, said at a press conference that "they couldn't say with certainty [the hackers] did not manipulate data."
DeSantis said in his letter "the breaches did not compromise the outcome of the 2016 election."
But, he added, "nonetheless, they highlight the importance of protecting the security of our elections system."
DeSantis ordered Lee to develop a plan to identify and address any elections vulnerabilities.
"You are further directed to make this a top priority of the Department, and report your findings to the Executive Office of the Governor upon completion of your review," DeSantis wrote.
Lee said in a statement that the department's "number one priority" was working with county elections supervisors.
DeSantis and Lee cited the more than $14.5 million in federal election security grants distributed to county elections offices since 2018, as well as providing $1.9 million in state funding for the "ALBERT network," which includes sensors to monitor and detect detect cyber threats.
Last week, Congress members said 66 of Florida's 67 counties have installed the ALBERT system, with Palm Beach supervisor Wendy Sartory Link saying the county was in the process of installing it.
(c)2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)