The threat posed by Russian hackers has not vaporized as the United States continues to head towards the midterm elections later this year. Amidst a flurry of other developments in the surrounding scandal, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times this Wednesday that Russian hackers have made it into Florida county elections systems.
‘They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.’
What counties he believes to be threatened aren’t immediately clear, although he explained that he was issuing his warning at the request of leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been investigating Russian meddling.
Nelson is not alone in sounding the alarm, joined by Florida’s other current U.S. Senator, Republican Marco Rubio.
‘We were requested by the chairman and vice chairman of Intelligence Committee to let supervisors of elections in Florida know that the Russians are in their records. This is no fooling.’
Implications of Russian penetration of Florida county elections systems include the possible deletion of voters from registration databases. That move would be a potent way to stop voters with certain inclinations from making their voices heard in an election. Nelson called the chaos that would undoubtedly ensue “exactly what the Russians want” to see unfold.
To be clear, there have been such “chaotic” incidents already. At times, elections officials have sought to “purge” inactive voters from the records, and at other times, they’ve based their “purges” on beliefs about certain registered voters’ citizenship — or lack thereof. Florida’s own current Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, earned criticism from the Obama era Department of Justice for targeting non-Republican voters with such a “purge.”
Russians, however, could seek to up the ante of those purges. They’ve been reported to have gained access to state elections systems in the past, including in Florida. In Illinois — if not elsewhere as well — Russian hackers seemed to have sought to delete or alter voter data, although those efforts didn’t get very far thanks to the data being ultimately based with the counties and not the state.
According to Nelson, though, that previously reported threat is still alive and active.
Rubio has joined him in his warnings in part through signing onto a letter to every Florida county election supervisor alerting them to threats — although the Times reports that letter to have been vague.
Rubio also held a meeting with a small but significant number of elections officials at an Orlando-area airport in late May, but Okaloosa Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux described the Senator’s warning as “so vague that it was of no value in improving election preparations against threats.”
Nelson, who faces a re-election battle against likely Republican challenger and current Florida Governor Rick Scott later this year, is apparently aiming to get more specific.
Concern about Russian interference in U.S. elections doesn’t make it all the way to the White House. Donald Trump has dismissed the threat time and time again, occasionally offering qualifiers for his remarks but more often sticking to his belligerence. Meanwhile, officials like Nelson are left to pick up the slack.
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