Florida's 67 county elections departments will retain $2.3 million in unspent grant money aimed at stopping cyber-attacks on the state's voting system in the run up to the state’s presidential primary in March.
The unspent money is left over from a $19 million federal grant last year, to combat potential attacks on the state’s voting system. Gov. Ron DeSantis calls election security a “cornerstone” of democracy; and that the money will be used to continue work on the systems targeted by Russian hackers in 2016.
“We have 67 different elections that are run,” said the Governor. “Not every county has the same amount of resources, so we want to be there to offer support, so the elections run smoothly.”
Last month, DeSantis ordered Sec. of State Laurel Lee to begin a review of election security from Pensacola to Key West.
“I have been briefed by the FBI involving the situation in 2016 with two Florida counties,” said DeSantis. “But while the intrusions did not affect the outcome of the election, we do not want to see breaches. Secretary Lee got to work very quickly, and today we have an update on her plan to conduct a review of Florida’s election systems.”
Lee, whose office oversees the statewide election process, says there is always a need for more security.
“We have already made critical investments and improvements to our election security,” said Lee. “Florida is now considered a leader in election security and cybersecurity; however, we must remain ever vigilant against constant and evolving threats.”
The Secretary and the Governor pledge to identify and fix any problems before the presidential primary next March through what she calls an historic partnership with the county elections offices on a joint cyber-security initiative.
“A thorough, election-specific assessment; and evaluate weaknesses in our election system, as well as any potential for human vulnerabilities,” said Lee. “Any weaknesses or vulnerabilities will be addressed prior to the [March 17] 2020 presidential primary.”
Gov. DeSantis is hoping no vulnerabilities are found; but if there are, he doesn't think they should be publicly disclosed.
“And if we identify vulnerabilities, that is not something that’s going to be put out,” said DeSantis. “Because we’d be telegraphing to our advisories, ‘hey, this is where Florida’s weakest.’”
“We share your commitment to protecting our elections; we also appreciate the redistribution of unspent funds to support [supervisors] of elections to make critical investments in election security,” said Tammy Jones, President of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.
“Florida’s supervisor [sic] of elections, have been laser-focused on this issue for the last three years,” said Jones, who is elections boss in Levy County. “And when it comes to working with our federal partners, we are one of the most engaged states on securing elections infrastructure.”
Sec. of State Laurel Lee will work with the county election supervisors to determine how the money is divided. The Governor plans to seek more money for election security in his 2020 budget — depending on what potential vulnerabilities elections supervisors find in the coming months.