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Miami-Dade County Leads Florida Election Security Charge

Journalist Bob Woodward’s new book “Rage” sheds light on the Florida counties targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential elections. Officials say Miami-Dade leads the state in security upgrades.

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(TNS) — Floridians have learned more from author Bob Woodward about where the Russians hacked into their elections in 2016 than they ever did from the governor they elected to — among other things — help prevent it from happening again.

In his latest book, Rage, which CNN secured in advance of its Sept. 15 release, Woodward writes that St. Lucie County was one of two counties that the Russians hacked during the 2016 presidential elections. Washington County was the other, revealed last year by the Washington Post and Politico.

When Gov. DeSantis disclosed in May 2019 that the Russians successfully accessed the two counties’ election systems, he said that the FBI had sworn him to secrecy, so he couldn’t tell the public what they most wanted to know: Whose votes were put in jeopardy, and where?

DeSantis orders review

He and county elections supervisors assured all of us that no votes had been tampered with, and the governor ordered a cybersecurity review of election systems in the state.

“Public faith in our elections is the bedrock of our democracy and we must do everything within our power to preserve the integrity of our elections systems,” DeSantis said in a statement at the time. “While the breaches did not compromise the outcome of the 2016 election, nonetheless, they highlight the importance of protecting the security of our elections system.”

Which is why we were disappointed that the governor dragged his feet in requesting federal CARES Act funds for elections safety and security, which are vital in light of the coronavirus’ impact on the voting process.

Florida was among the last states in the nation to request its $20 million in CARES Act funds. In fact, a bipartisan group of 13 congressional lawmakers from Florida requested in a letter to the governor that he act more swiftly. After all, President Trump signed the act in late March. Florida didn’t request its share until mid-May. Miami-Dade’s Elections Department was just notified that it’s getting $1.8 million.

With less than two months to go until Election Day, that’s cutting it too close. Of course, balloting will start long before Nov. 3, and the counties have been ramping up security measures since 2019.

Suzy Trutie, deputy supervisor of elections, told the Editorial Board that the department has used federal cybersecurity grants to upgrade and harden election headquarters in Doral with Plexiglas in the lobby, barriers, key cards and cameras. That’s a start.

Equipment upgrades

There are new — and more — fortified sorters and tabulation machines, because of the coming deluge of vote-by-mail ballots. All of this was in place by the end of 2019, in time for the recently held Aug. 18 primary. “In the primary, we had more than 400,000 vote-by-mail requests. For the general election we already have 507,000 vote-by-mail requests.”

And unlike other counties that are just getting around to acquiring electronic poll books that will prevent people from voting more than once, as the president has suggested, Miami-Dade has had them for years, Trutie said.

When asked about anti-hacking upgrades, Trutie said that the department had indeed take steps to prevent such expected interference, but would not reveal what they were.

Voting in Florida shouldn’t be a constant confidence-building exercise. It’s reassuring that Miami-Dade, in many ways, has been ahead of the curve.

©2020 Miami Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.