More openness, less secrecy, on election security | Editorial
A 60 Minutes report recounts how Russian hackers influenced a Florida congressional race.
Florida needs more openness, not secrecy, about elections security. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Florida needs more openness, not secrecy, about elections security. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) [ ROGELIO V. SOLIS | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 25, 2019

State Sen. Annette Taddeo said on national television Sunday that she has been advised to stop talking about how Russian hackers released confidential information regarding her 2016 congressional campaign. That’s an issue from Washington to Tallahassee to county courthouses. Less than a year from the 2020 election, voters need more transparency, not more secrecy, about foreign interference in our democracy and what is being done at every level to combat it.

There were few new revelations in the 60 Minutes report that featured Taddeo, a Miami Democrat who narrowly lost a primary race for Congress in 2016. But it provided a succinct, compelling narrative that reminded viewers how Russian interference in the elections stretched well beyond the race for president. The report also included a frank warning from a former FBI cyber-security expert that the Russians have not abandoned their efforts to influence U.S. elections and can be counted on to refine their methods for 2020.

Taddeo recounted how she was on her way to a televised debate in Miami when she learned stolen confidential campaign information about polling and other campaign strategy had become public. The hacking of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was traced to the Russian military, which distributed the stolen documents through the fictional on-line persona, Guccifer 2.0. In Taddeo’s case, the information flowed from Guccifer to an anonymous blogger called HelloFLA!, run by a Republican lobbyist who forwarded the information to reporters. That’s a pretty direct line from Russia to Florida, and it isn’t the only one voters should remember.

Floridians still don’t know for sure which two county voting systems were targeted by the Russians in 2016. Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed to find out after the Mueller Report was released in April and noted at least one county was a target. But when DeSantis met with FBI and Homeland Security officials in May, he was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. There is no need to keep the names of those counties secret three years after the election, and the vague assurances that the hacking attempts of the county voting systems did not compromise anything is not enough.

Yet the cloak of secrecy over the security of elections in Florida has only gotten wider. To its credit, the state has created closer partnerships with every county supervisor of elections to share information about cyber security. But all of the elections supervisors were required to sign non-disclosure agreements that are too broad. Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee told reporters last month that state and local elections systems are under daily attack, but she declined to characterize the attacks or describe how the state and the counties are responding. It’s understandable that some specific details should not be public, but "trust us’' is hardly reassuring when the threat of foreign interference is continuing.

Taddeo lost her congressional Democratic primary by 726 votes out of about 29,000 votes cast. A dozen members of the Russian military have been indicted for elections hacking but likely will never see a U.S. courtroom. And President Donald Trump continues to spread the false conspiracy theory that Ukraine was responsible for the interference despite the conclusions by the Mueller Report, Congress and the national intelligence community that it was Russia.

Voters need more facts, more openness and less secrecy about the vulnerability of the nation’s elections to foreign interference and what is being done to stop it. The threat to the 2020 elections is real, and public confidence in the integrity of the process is essential to our democracy.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news