Florida election officials said Saturday they are seeking more information to combat any possibility of ongoing hacking efforts on county voting systems, as support mounted over the weekend for Sen. Bill Nelson’s recent claims that Russian operatives have “penetrated” some county voter registration databases in Florida ahead of the 2018 elections.
A U.S. government official familiar with the matter confirmed to McClatchy on Saturday an NBC news report that Nelson was right when he said Russian hackers had “penetrated” some of Florida’s county voting systems. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee told Nelson recently that operatives working for Russia penetrated some county voter registration databases in Florida. That appears to represent new information about fallout from a Russian hacking operation nearly two years ago and not evidence of a fresh attack, the government official familiar with the matter said.
And on Saturday, Nelson defended himself against claims by Gov. Rick Scott, his likely opponent in a hotly contested U.S. Senate election, that he was careless with classified information.
“I did exactly what the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee — both the Republican chairman and the vice-Chairman — asked Marco Rubio and I to give that warning. And to give it to the supervisors, which we did,” Nelson said at a campaign stop in Tampa. “I think now that Marco Rubio and I have brought it to everybody’s attention, despite the attempts at politicization of it by Gov. Scott, I think now that it’s out there on the open on what is the potential threat, I think the supervisors will make sure that their systems are secure.”
However, the U.S. government official who spoke to McClatchy said Nelson overstated the threat in saying on Aug. 7 that, after penetrating county voter registration databases, Russian cyber operatives “now have free rein to move about.” Nelson since has voiced concerns that the Russians could tamper with voter registration databases, suppress votes and create chaos at the polls on Election Day.
Details of the extent of any election security threat from the Russians’ penetration of Florida counties are classified, and the limited information that has leaked presents a confusing picture.
Florida officials faced with the prospect of ongoing hacking attempts say they’ve seen no evidence of voter information being altered as early primary voting continues in counties around the state.
Paul Lux, the supervisor of elections for Okaloosa County and the president of the state Association of Supervisors of Elections, said county-level election officials have not been informed of concrete steps they should take to inoculate themselves from the specific threat of ongoing Russian hacking attempts that Nelson has alluded to. Florida officials who do have access to classified information regarding the state’s voting systems typically receive briefings from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.
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