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  1. Opinion

Florida's No. 1 priority is ensuring our elections are safe and secure and voter information is protected | Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee

Margaret Butler sets up voting booths ahead of Election Day at the First United Methodist Church of Seffner Precinct last year.   [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times (2018)]
Margaret Butler sets up voting booths ahead of Election Day at the First United Methodist Church of Seffner Precinct last year. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2018)]
Published Jul. 26, 2019

Former state Sen. Paula Dockery recently wrote a column on election security, and I want to set the record straight on some of the assertions it contained.

The Florida Department of State's and all 67 supervisors of elections' No. 1 priority is ensuring our elections are safe and secure and voter information is protected. This mission has been our driving force since 2017 when elections were designated as critical infrastructure by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

After learning of the information released in special counsel Robert Mueller's report, Gov. Ron DeSantis and I received a briefing from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in which they shared that although two Florida counties experienced intrusions during the 2016 election cycle, there was no manipulation of voter data, vote counts or election results, and none of the affected systems were responsible for the recording or tabulation or reporting of actual votes. Voting machines are not connected to the internet, an important fact to remember.

Sen. Dockery claimed that almost nothing has been done since 2016 to make our elections more secure. The truth is, Florida will head into the 2020 elections with a total investment of more than $19 million in election security since last year. This includes $15.5 million in election security grants to supervisors of elections that could be used for things like upgrading servers, anti-virus software, USB sanitizers, building access control security systems and cyber security training, just to name a few.

An additional $1.9 million in grants was provided last year to supervisors of elections for the purchase and installation of ALBERT network monitoring sensors, which can detect and quickly alert officials to cyber threats.

I am extremely proud that Florida is the first and only state in the country to have all county election offices using the ALBERT sensor.

The Florida Legislature also allocated an additional $2.8 million for election security this past session for fiscal year 2019-2020. Maintaining the security of Florida's elections is a top priority for the governor, which is why on May 22 he directed me to initiate a review of elections systems security and cyber security throughout the state.

To that end, the Department of State and supervisors of elections are engaging in a joint cyber security initiative that will identify and address any vulnerabilities in our elections infrastructure prior to the 2020 presidential primary.

Sen. Dockery and others have claimed hackers at the annual Defcon conference tried to hack the websites responsible for election information and that an 11-year-old was successful. This isn't true. In fact, similar statements have been given a "Mostly False" rating by a recent PolitiFact fact check. Defcon conference organizers created mock websites that only looked like official state election websites and had minimal security features in place.

Sen. Dockery also unnecessarily raises the alarm about remote access software in voting machines. This type of software does not exist in any voting system version that is used in Florida.

Lastly, Sen. Dockery calls for the Legislature and county officials to switch to hand-marked paper ballots. We already do this in Florida. Under Florida law, all voting in our state is done by paper ballot so we can always refer to the original record.

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Bottom line: You can't hack paper. It's the ultimate fail-safe.

The only exception in law allows voters with disabilities the option to vote on accessible devices, like touchscreen machines, but even this option will require a paper record by 2020. Most counties have already phased out paperless voting systems for voters with disabilities. In the 2018 General Election, counties reported a total of 83 ballots cast via touchscreen by voters with disabilities.

I am very proud of the work Florida has done to make our state a national leader in election security. However, we know the threat is always evolving which is why state and local election officials never let our guard down, and we work very closely with each other and our federal partners to stay abreast of potential threats, new trends and technological advances.

The governor has made it very clear that the sanctity of our vote is the cornerstone of our nation's democracy. The Florida Department of State will ensure that no county stands alone against foreign threats to Florida's elections, and that every Floridian can head to the polls in 2020 with the utmost confidence in the integrity of our elections and the security of their vote.

Laurel M. Lee is Florida's secretary of state.