Florida changes course, will seek federal money for cyber-security on election

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Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday directed the state’s chief elections official to seek $19.2 million in federal money to help counties protect against possible cyber-security attacks in the 2018 election.

Scott’s action came hours after the official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, was quoted as saying the money wouldn’t be available before November because accepting it would require approval by the Legislature — even though that step could be taken at a 15-minute meeting.

“The answer is no,” Detzner said earlier, in effect ruling out chances that the much-needed money could be used this year. That would come as a disappointment to county elections officials, who are desperate for the money.

Detzner spoke to reporters Tuesday at a statewide conference of election supervisors, where the hottest issue by far was how to protect the election systems in the nation’s most important battleground state from malicious intrusions — like the attempted Russian hack in 2016.

Detzner also indicated the state was applying for the money. Scott’s statement, issued shortly after noon Wednesday, gave the issue added urgency, and underscored a heightened sense of political awareness in a year in which the governor is seeking a U.S. Senate seat.

“The integrity of our elections is paramount, and we’ll keep fighting to ensure that every Floridian continues to have confidence in our elections process,” Scott said in a statement. “By directing DOS (the Department of State) to draw down more federal funding, we are providing the resources our local elections officials need to keep our elections secure.”

Sen. Bill Nelson, who is being challenged for re-election by Scott, scrambled to the Senate floor Wednesday and denounced the state’s lack of action. “My state of Florida hasn’t even applied for one single dollar of the $19 million set aside. Not one.” His remarks came as Scott was scrambling to override Detzner.

Detzner, a Scott appointee and one of his longest-serving agency heads, was with reporters when Scott’s statement appeared.

“We’re going to follow the governor’s directive. I think it’s well-pointed and we’re going to move aggressively based on his direction to submit a budget to the EAC (Elections Assistance Commission),” Detzner said.

Asked why the sudden reversal, Detzner said: “I’ve heard a lot of things here today that there seems to be a demand for some additional resources.”

Word of Scott’s intervention spread quickly among elections officials. “This is very good. Very good news,” said Mark Earley, supervisor of elections in Tallahassee’s Leon County.

Tampa Bay Times Washington Bureau Chief Alex Leary contributed to this report.


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