Russian hackers, long lines, voting data: What Florida elections officials are talking about this week

Supervisors of elections from the state’s 67 counties will meet this week at a Fort Lauderdale oceanfront resort hotel for three days of brainstorming.
Russian President Vladimir Putin. [AP]
Russian President Vladimir Putin. [AP]
Published May 21, 2018|Updated May 21, 2018

The people who count votes in Florida realize the eyes of the nation will be on them again as millions of people make their choices in the 2018 election.

Supervisors of elections from the state's 67 counties will meet this week at a Fort Lauderdale oceanfront resort hotel for three days of brainstorming. They're preparing for a trouble-free midterm election in the nation's premier battleground state, with its long history of close races and nail-biting election nights.

Here are five specific issues they will deal with at their annual summer conference.


The possibility of more malicious attempts, especially from Russian hackers, to disrupt Florida's election is on every election supervisor's mind.

"It's the No. 1 priority on every election supervisor's preparation list," said Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark.

Supervisors will hear from a top official of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on what more should be done to protect the integrity of voting systems.

The conference comes just days after President Donald J. Trump eliminated the position of national cybersecurity coordinator.

In addition, counties are frustrated that two months after Congress approved expedited election security money for states – including $19 million for Florida – the money still sits in Washington.

Every state must file a detailed application, including a line item budget specifying how the money would be spent.

"I'm going to be pushing hard to get some answers," said Mark Earley, supervisor of elections in Tallahassee's Leon County.


Midterm elections in Florida are notorious for their low turnouts, and it could happen again this year.

But elections officials want high turnouts, and they will compare experiences on what works and what doesn't.

Elections experts from small, medium and large counties will talk about how to use social media and other forms of public engagement to get voters to focus on the two upcoming statewide elections.


Supervisors took a statewide survey on the question of whether regional voting centers would be a good idea, possibly in the 2020 presidential election. The centers would be like super-sized early voting sites, tailored to thousands of voters' work, school and commuting habits.

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles in Orlando likes the idea, noting that 73 percent of the people who voted in his county in 2016 had voted early or by mail before Election Day.

"We are a tourism, service-industry community," Cowles told the Times/Herald. "Vote centers make more sense. You can go and vote no matter where you work or live or what your schedule is."

Some counties want to take a go-slow approach to the concept because of concerns it could disrupt more traditional patterns of casting ballots at the neighborhood precinct down the street.

"We're not trying to make things unduly difficult for voters," said Citrus County Supervisor Susan Gill. "But we want to keep the discussion going.  Each election is different."


The sheer length of Florida's 2018 ballot has raised fears of bottlenecks at polling sites and ballot fatigue, as voters grow weary of making so many choices and simply give up.

That's another reason why voters will be encouraged more than ever to avoid long lines by voting in mail, not in person, despite longstanding concerns that voting by mail is the method that is most susceptible to fraud.

Florida's 2012 ballot included 11 statewide referendum questions that contributed to the longest early voting lines in state history (that also was the year that Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature curtailed the number of early voting days).

This year's ballot has 13 ballot questions, and Pinellas Supervisor Clark has estimated that it will take some voters 20 to 25 minutes to read and understand every question.


For years, Florida voting experts urged the state to join a multi-state compact in which states exchange secure voter information.

One goal of information-sharing is to weed out cases in which deceased voters linger on the rolls long after their funerals and the same voter is registered in more than one state – a common practice in Florida, where an estimated 300,000 people arrive each year, a mass migration equal to the size of Tampa.

A Pew Charitable Trusts report in 2012 estimated that nearly 2.8 million Americans were registered in more than one state.

Finally, in 2018, the Legislature passed a law that allows Florida to join ERIC, the Electronic Registration Information Center. More than 20 states already belong to ERIC.

Supervisors will get a tutorial on how ERIC works and what steps are used to ensure voter database security.

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