The growing recognition in state government that more must be done — and soon — to secure Florida voting systems from tampering and disruption is a promising thing to see. But so much more remains to be done.
Last week Gov. Ron DeSantis announced new plans for assessment, monitoring and training to help both the state Division of Elections and Florida’s 67 county supervisors of elections.
They included a welcome do-over for getting federal funds to the beleaguered elections supervisor. Some $2.3 million that had gone unspent now will go to local programs for enhancing election security. And that’s in addition to the $2.8 million just appropriated by the Florida Legislature. Which means more help is on the way.
“This has become an issue in the last couple of months in a way that I did not, and really nobody, appreciated,” the governor said at a press conference.
Well, a few people appreciated it. As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report concluded, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systematic fashion.”
The report also noted Russian operatives were able “to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government.” Gov. DeSantis later said two county elections offices were struck. The Washington Post reported that one of them was Washington County, a small Panhandle country.
The governor’s announcement means that money that counties had to send back now can be used to fund more security enhancements. In Volusia County, for example, that includes security cameras, updated modems for tabulation equipment and cybersecurity enhancements.
Florida is going to be pivotal in the 2020 elections, and we may expect new and more sophisticated attacks on our election systems. DeSantis’ announcement showed the state is taking this seriously, but still more is needed.
DeSantis had asked the Legislature to finance a cybersecurity unit within the Division of Elections but it did not act. He should repeat the request next year. Ballot security measures in the U.S. Congress, meanwhile, have been blocked by Senate inaction, just as most other legislation has been.
Even the Secure Elections Act, a bill with support from senators of both parties, is languishing. It would set up information-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials and push states to use verifiable paper ballots.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he has no plans to consider any stand-alone election security legislation and appears to consider Russian election interference in the 2016 election a problem that’s already been solved. If only that were true.
Florida counties need help to avoid a repeat of 2016. Large counties because of the volume they handle and their more complex challenges in recording and counting ballots. Small counties because they have fewer resources and often older equipment.
As Donald Trump’s rally in Orlando showed, the 2020 election has already kicked off. If voters are to have full confidence in the results, new initiatives and help from the state and national governments are needed now.
This editorial originally appeared in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.