Florida Counties Get $2.3 Million for Election Security

Funding for individual counties ranges from $229 in Hendry County to $524,838 for Orange County. In South Florida, Miami-Dade County was awarded $210,977, Broward got $18,500, and Palm Beach County got nothing.

by Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel / July 11, 2019
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(TNS) — County elections offices throughout Florida are getting another infusion of election security money. The amounts allocated to each county, and what the money is going for, varies greatly.

The round of grants, totaling $2.3 million, was announced this week by Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee. Funding ranges from $229 in Hendry County to $524,838 for Orange County. In South Florida, Miami-Dade County was awarded $210,977, Broward got $18,500, and Palm Beach County got nothing.

But the different amounts don’t indicate winners and losers. The money allocated this week is what remains from a total pot of money available before the 2018 election. Not every county received and used its full amount before last year’s election, state and county representatives said.

The Department of State distributed approximately $14.5 million in election security grants to elections supervisors last year to enhance security for the 2018 election, agency spokeswoman Sarah Revell said.

Leftover money went back to a trust fund. The most recent allocations gave each county whatever was left from its share of 2018 money.

Palm Beach County didn’t get anything in this round because it got its full allocation in 2018, said Revell and Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link.

In 2018, Palm Beach requested and received $909,513. Broward requested and received $1,159,177, and Miami-Dade County requested and received $1,644,918, Revell said via email.

In Broward, the bids for security enhancements implemented last year by then Elections Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes came in slightly less than the allocation the county received. Steve Vancore, spokesman for Peter Antonacci, the current elections supervisor, said Broward repaid the unspent money plus interest earned on the grant until the money was used.

That $18,500 is now coming back to Broward. Vancore said Antonacci is spending it on a system that provides extra screening for incoming email that’s designed to thwart things like malicious phishing attempts to convince employees to open emails with malicious attachments.

Miami-Dade County is using the allocation for a range of “cybersecurity software products,” Robert Rodriguez, an assistant deputy supervisor of elections, said via email.

Election security is a high-profile issue, especially since Russians attempted to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

In March 2018, the federal government allocated $380 million for states to improve election security and technology. Florida got $19.2 million.

In Broward, Vancore said, Snipes’ office mainly used the money last year to enhance physical security at its voting equipment center in Lauderhill.

In Palm Beach County, Link said, her predecessor, Susan Bucher, used the money primarily to update electronic poll books at precincts.

Link said she inquired to see if any funding from the allocation was available for Palm Beach County, and was told it was only for counties “that didn’t get to use it the last time. We have already gotten what we were allocated back in 2018.”

However, she said, in additional grants become available, “we’ll apply for everything.”

In announcing the security grants, Lee’s office said Florida is the only state that has all counties using so-called ALBERT network monitoring sensors for elections offices.

ALBERT sensors from the Center for Internet Security provide round-the-clock monitoring of government technology networks to identify potential threats. The sensors are designed to detect attempts to infiltrate voting systems.

The last of the 67 counties to join the system was Palm Beach. Link said she decided to buy the hardware and software shortly after she became supervisor in January.

Link was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis when he suspended former Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher. Antonacci was appointed in November by then-Gov. Rick Scott after Snipes resigned.

Election security in Florida received renewed focus this year after the report on Russian election meddling from Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed the tantalizing revelation that the FBI was confident that “at least one Florida county” had been successfully infiltrated by software from Russian intelligence agents.

DeSantis and members of Congress reported after receiving classified briefings from the FBI that two counties were involved, but were prohibited from saying which ones.

Elections officials from South Florida have repeatedly said the region’s counties were not affected, and a person familiar with the FBI briefings said neither Broward nor Palm Beach County was affected.

Officials said there was no impact on election results, but any meddling with voter registration information — which was subject to Russian spearphishing efforts — is less clear.

©2019 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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