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Florida Gov. Rick Scott orders hiring of election security consultants

Posted: 7:34 AM, May 04, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-04 11:34:58Z

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that the state would hire special election security consultants in advance of this year's critical elections despite state legislators rejecting a similar request earlier this year.

Scott and state officials had asked the Florida Legislature to create a cybersecurity unit in the state's elections office to combat a "growing threat." The move came after an effort to infiltrate the state's election systems during the 2016 elections.

Legislators did not agree to the request so the Republican governor said the state would hire five employees under contract to assist Florida election officials. State officials said they would use a federal grant to pay for the security consultants.

"We must be proactive in our efforts to preserve the security and integrity of our elections," Scott said in a statement. He added that prompted his order to Florida's Department of State to invest in a cybersecurity team "that will serve as a resource to all of our election officials."

State officials have provided limited details on what happened ahead of the 2016 elections. A classified report leaked last year suggested hackers linked to Russian intelligence stole information from a voting systems vendor and used it to send phishing messages to local elections officials nationwide, including Florida.

The chief operating officer for the Florida-based company, VR Systems, told local election officials last summer that his computers were never compromised.

Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Department of State, said that there was "no information to indicate that Florida has been specifically targeted by hackers since 2016." She also said that department has upgraded software, hardware and firewalls of the statewide voter registration system to "prevent any possible hacking attempts from being successful."

Late last year, state officials and Scott asked the Legislature for nearly $500,000 to create a stand-alone cybersecurity unit in the Department of State. But the request was turned down by state legislators during their annual session.

Legislators, however, did agree to set aside $1.9 million to provide grants to local election officials to purchase a security monitoring service.

"We are looking at elections security from every angle and are working diligently to be as prepared as possible for the 2018 election and beyond," said David Stafford, the elections supervisor for Escambia County.