Florida senator warns of election hack, DHS says there’s no problem

A Florida senator raised alarms with his remarks Wednesday that Russian hackers have penetrated voter registration databases in his state. But now Florida election officials and the US Department of Homeland Security say that, despite what Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said, they’re not aware of any breaches.

“While we are aware of Senator Nelson’s recent statements, we have not seen any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure,” Sara Sendek, a DHS spokeswoman, said in a statement. “That said, we don’t need to wait for a specific threat to be ready. DHS and Florida state and county officials have partnered on a number of initiatives to secure their election systems.”

Nelson made his remarks in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, saying the Senate Intelligence Committee asked him and Sen. Marco Rubio, also of Florida, “to let the supervisors of election in Florida know that the Russians are in their records.”

Representatives for Nelson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Voter rolls are a prime target for hackers trying to disrupt elections, and Homeland Security says it observed a concerted effort in 2016 by hackers to probe and access voter rolls in 21 states. Those attempts, combined with hacks of the computer systems and emails of the Democratic National Committee and political operatives like John Podesta, comprised what US intelligence agencies said was part of a larger operation ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin to disrupt the US presidential election in 2016.

In July, Nelson and Florida’s other senator, Republican Marco Rubio, sent a letter to Florida election officials urging them to seek support in protecting their election infrastructure. A representative for Rubio didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

If hackers are trying to access voter registration databases in the US again, election officials from the Florida Department of State say they haven’t gotten that information.

“The Florida Department of State has received zero information from Senator Nelson or his staff that support his claims,” the agency said in a statement. “Additionally, the Department has received no information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that corroborates Senator Nelson’s statement and we have no evidence to support these claims.”

Similarly, the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections said it didn’t have details of an intrusion, and the supervisor of elections for Orange County, home to one of Florida’s most populous urban areas, offered reassurance. 

“We continue to work with Federal and State resources to secure our systems and have full confidence in the integrity of our elections,” Bill Cowles said in a statement.

Florida residents can check whether they’re currently registered to vote at www.ocfelections.com/voter_lookup/voterlookup.aspx.

First published Aug. 9, 12:15 p.m. PT
Update, 12:49 p.m.: Adds comment from Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections and from Bill Cowles.

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