A week after Gov. Ron DeSantis revealed that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security informed him that two Florida county election websites were hacked by Russians in 2016, the governor is now directing his Secretary of State, Laurel Lee, to review Florida’s election security.
“While the breaches did not compromise the outcome of the 2016 election, nonetheless, they highlight the importance of protecting the security of our elections system,” DeSantis said in a written statement. “Therefore, I am directing the Secretary of State to immediately initiate a review of the security and cybersecurity of Florida’s elections systems.”
DeSantis told reporters last week that he knows two Florida counties were hacked, but wouldn’t say which ones because he signed an non-disclosure agreement with the FBI. That sparked widespread criticism of the FBI from members of both sides of the aisle for not disclosing which counties were hacked. The FBI has said that information remains classified in order to protect its sources and investigatory methods.
The Washington Post and POLITICO reported last week that Washington County in North Florida was one of those two counties. Elections officials from Washington County have neither confirmed nor denied that report, but emphasize that vote counts and election processes were unaffected during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles.
There have been no credible media reports on the second county in Florida penetrated by Russian hackers in 2016.
In his letter addressed to Lee, DeSantis calls on the Florida Department of State to develop a plan and “address any vulnerabilities” in the state’s election system.
The state used $1.9 million in federal funding last year to reimburse every county to purchase and install so-called ALBERT sensors, which can monitor and detect electronic penetration.
The Department of State also handed out more than $14.5 million in federal election security grants to county Supervisors of Elections last year but only after former Gov. Rick Scott intervened. Initially, then-Secretary of State Ken Detzner ruled that money couldn’t be used until the 2020 election.
“But the supervisors revolted, and said ‘We want this money. We want this protection now,’” says Ian Sancho, the former longtime Supervisor of Elections in Leon County.