Of course, there are good reasons for some secrecy. But with Florida’s unhappy history with elections, it’s hard to take state officials’ assurances at face value.
The 2020 elections are just around the corner, and government officials responsible for ensuring the upcoming vote occurs without a hitch are asking a lot from the public — trust.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee said late last month that the state’s voting systems are adequately prepared for electronic attacks — a pressing concern since the specter of Russian hacking haunted the last presidential election.
Securing Florida’s voting systems is long overdue. Unfortunately, Lee undermined her message by refusing to provide any details that might convince the public that these latest efforts to stem cyber-attacks on Florida’s elections systems would work.
“The Department of State stands here in 2019 with an incredible amount of information we never previously had,” said Lee, who is Florida’s top elections official, without a word of specifics about that incredible amount of information.
“I believe that should inspire a level of confidence that we have access to far more information than we had at any prior point.”
Not really. Ever since the Mueller report on the 2016 presidential election determined that hacking efforts by Russian intelligence were successful in “at least one” Florida county, Floridians wanted to know where they’re vulnerable. Compounding the anxiety, Gov. Ron DeSantis said in May that he learned from the FBI that Russians hacked two counties — their voter-information files, not systems involved in vote tallying.
But state officials, saying they’ve been muzzled by federal investigators, still refuse to say which counties were hacked in 2016. And although they just conducted a review of state and county election systems, they won’t say what kind of security weaknesses were uncovered —- if any.
Last week, DeSantis proposed spending $1.3 million, as part of his suggested $91.4 billion budget proposal for 2020-21, to create a new cyber-security unit to work with local elections supervisors to improve weaknesses in state and local voting systems.
That spending would comes on top of earlier funding totaling $5.1 million in state dollars and $15.5 million in federal election security grants, largely for counties to upgrade servers, install antivirus software and provide cybersecurity training.
Florida clearly has had work to do. In a 2018 report by the Center of American Progress, a left-wing think tank, the state was one of five to earn an ‘F’ grade on election security.
Of course, there are good reasons for some secrecy.
But with Florida’s unhappy history with elections, it’s hard to take state officials’ assurances at face value.
Of course, there will always be tension between security and the public’s right to know. But on this looming threat of election hacking, the veil of secrecy is being pulled too tight.
“If you’re trying to convince voters that the election system is safe and secure, transparency is the way to go,” says Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “If it looks like you have something to hide, you are not putting anyone’s anxieties at rest.”