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Florida officials wanted an elections cybersecurity team. Lawmakers said no.

Creating the five-person team would have cost less than $500,000.
House Speaker Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes and Senate President Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton.
House Speaker Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes and Senate President Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton.
Published May 22, 2019
Updated May 23, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday he wants state officials to “review” the state’s elections systems after news that two county elections offices were hacked in 2016.

But for the last two years, Florida’s secretaries of state have asked for that help — only to be turned down twice by state lawmakers.

Last year, then-Secretary of State Ken Detzner asked the Legislature for $488,000 to create a full-time elections cybersecurity team with five people, according to the department.

Even though it was a measly amount in the scope of their $88.7 billion budget, lawmakers refused, and the department instead hired five cybersecurity contractors to help local supervisors in last year’s election.

This year, Secretary of State Laurel Lee asked lawmakers for $1.5 million to keep those cybersecurity contractors, and lawmakers again refused.

Thankfully, all were not lost.

“The Department still has two cyber navigators available to supervisors and they will continue to be available through 2020,” Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell said in an email.

On Wednesday, DeSantis asked Lee to make it her “top priority" to “immediately initiate a review of the security, particularly the cybersecurity” of elections systems across the state’s 67 counties.

“Public faith in our elections is the bedrock of our democracy and we must do everything within our power to preserve the integrity of our elections systems,” DeSantis said in a statement. “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.”

Lee, who’s meeting with the state’s elections supervisors in Daytona this week, called it her “number one priority” in a statement.

The Legislature did spend $1.9 million last year on software that detects cyber threats in each county, and the governor’s office said in a statement that Florida had more of those sensors than any other state.

In a news conference earlier this month, DeSantis told reporters that federal officials he met with were “laudatory about Florida’s efforts to be ahead of the curve” in relation to the 2020 election. Still, DeSantis said he believed risks to Florida elections remained.

“We’ve done a lot, we’re leading the nation in some of the things that we’re doing,” DeSantis said during the May 14 news conference. “I think we’re going to be able to get the job done. And if we’re not as we get into the fall and winter, we’ll be able to seek additional help at that time.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has been more pessimistic about Florida’s readiness to combat malfeasance in the 2020 election.

“I have repeatedly voiced concerns about overconfidence of some Florida elections officials,” Rubio tweeted in April.

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