U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s claim that Russian hackers have “penetrated“ some of Florida’s voter registration systems is making headlines around the world.
It’s also got voters here in the Bay area wondering about the security of their ballots.
Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer says if the Russians had penetrated the voting system, as Nelson said Wednesday, it’s something he hopes the Department of Homeland Security would have told him about.
As of Thursday, they had not.
“Daily, we get we get different threat assessments,” said Latimer. “I can tell you that I have no evidence here.”
Nelson says the details behind his alarming claim -- that the Russians now have free rein to move about certain counties’ election systems -- are classified.
But the Florida Department of State says it has zero information to support his claims.
And, there's been no public statement from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI or FDLE to corroborate Nelson’s comments.
Still, Latimer says Nelson’s warning isn’t a surprise to him.
Back in May, he says, Sen. Marco Rubio met with close to a dozen supervisors of election during a private meeting in Orlando, raising similar concerns.
At the time, Rubio asked them not to discuss it. Latimer had not -- until now.
“He made a very similar statement that there was some, it wasn’t in everybody's system - there was some activity in some systems,” Latimer said.
With so many agencies saying they have no new information to support Nelson's claim, we reached out to his office for clarification.
We received a copy of a letter dated July 2, 2018, signed by both Nelson and Rubio. The letter cites Senate Intelligence Committee findings that Russian hackers accessed voter databases and the possibility that additional activity “has not yet been uncovered.”
What’s important, says Latimer, is that voters know the tabulation machines themselves – the ones that actually count your vote -- operate independently and are not tied together or to any other computer servers.
Nelson’s allegation of Russian meddling centers on voter rolls and the idea that some people will show up to vote on election day and be told they’re not registered, creating chaos.
But Latimer says that’s exceedingly unlikely. If it was happening, they’d see it during registration audits or early voting ahead of Election Day, he says. And they would already be getting complaints from voters who were denied mail-in ballots.
Still, Latimer says he and other supervisors of election have been increasing security since the first allegations of Russian meddling. Statewide, almost $2 million has been spent on a network monitoring system, and $15.5 million has been spent on election security.
In 2016, nearly 72 percent of Hillsborough County voters had already cast their ballots before election day -- either by mail or early vote. So, if there’s a problem, they’d likely know about it.
But, even if Nelson knows something they don’t -- and there are any question at a polling place -- Latimer says they’ll still take your ballot and sort it out.
No one, he says, would be denied the chance to vote.
“You know, if you have a concern, go vote early,” Latimer said. “That way, we’ve got plenty of time to straighten this out. Election Day is not the first day to vote. It’s the last day to vote.”
Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian E. Corley issued the following statement Thursday:
"As an election administrator in the nation's largest battleground state, my fellow SOE's and I are highly cognizant of the ongoing and evolving threats to elections security. Supervisors of Elections throughout Florida have been working extensively for some time with our state and Federal partners, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS has been invaluable in assisting myself and my team in preparing for and ensuring response to a myriad of threats. Pasco County has modeled our approach and focus on Prevention, Mitigation and Response to both physical and cyber threats. Currently, there is no indication that Pasco County systems have been penetrated. If the voter registration system becomes unavailable on Election Day, all polling locations are issued a paper backup precinct register. If a voter's eligibility cannot be determined at the polls, provisional ballots are available to ensure that every voter can cast a ballot on Election Day. We will continue to be hyper-vigilant to these real and emerging threats. Please know that we are ready to respond."
The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections released its own statement which can be viewed here.
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