Election 2020

Florida Senators Urge State to Accept Federal Election Security Help

Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduce new gun violence prevention legislation on March 7, 2018. (Alex Edelman/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

WASHINGTON — Florida senators chided their home state to take advantage of assistance offered by the federal government to shore up election security before November midterms.

In April, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned local officials that the swing state is a “beacon” for foreign interference.

“I cannot emphasize enough the vulnerability,” Rubio told the Florida Association of Counties then. “Most of our election officials in Florida, I believe, with all due respect, are overconfident. I don’t think they fully understand the nature of the threat.”

A key threat, he said, is hackers changing people’s voter registration or precinct data so they’re turned away from the polls on Election Day.

“These are not people sitting in the basement of their mom’s house. These are nation state threats. They have significant resources and assets at their disposal to do this,” he said. “…Florida is among the most vulnerable, not because of anything we’ve done wrong but because of who we are. We are an east coast reporting state, we close (the polls) at 8 o’clock.”

In a new letter to Florida’s secretary of state and 67 supervisors of elections, Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) stressed that “this year is demanding greater awareness of cyber threats, technical expertise, and cooperation among all levels of government than perhaps any other year.”

“Russian government actors targeted our election infrastructure during the 2016 elections. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recently released a summary of its findings regarding the scanning and penetration of state systems in 2016, along with recommendations for addressing vulnerabilities,” they wrote. “Those findings included that Russia was preparing to undermine confidence in our voting process and that, in a small number of cases, cyber actors affiliated with the Russian Government accessed voter registration databases.”

“The Committee further reported that, because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) depends on states and localities self-reporting suspicious activity, and that activity is often difficult to find, ‘it is possible that additional activity occurred and has not yet been uncovered.'”

Nelson and Rubio wrote that “county election boards should not be expected to stand alone against a hostile foreign government.”

“The committee recommended—and DHS now offers—a wide range of services to state and local officials that will support your efforts to make your systems secure,” they added. “DHS will follow your lead and meet your needs with a tailored set of options. We encourage you in the strongest terms to take advantage of those resources, and to let us know about your experience with DHS and FBI.”

“Elections run by local officials are the bedrock of our democracy. Our decentralized system is a strength, but it also means the responsibility resides with each of us to be sure our locality is secure. We look forward to working with you, DHS, and FBI to ensure successful and secure elections this year.”