The Russians are coming for our elections, and we’re still not ready to stop them

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Florida has requested $19.2 million in federal funds to harden its voting system against intrusion.
Florida has requested $19.2 million in federal funds to harden its voting system against intrusion. Getty Images

The Russians are ready for the midterm elections. Are we?

The August primaries loom, with the general election in November soon after. But the state is getting a late start in protecting its voting system from tampering. Though county elections supervisors across the state have been persistent in their pleas for state help, too many state leaders, from lawmakers to the secretary of state, either dragged their feet in, or rejected outright, taking steps to assure Floridians that they can vote with confidence and that the integrity of the election process is paramount.

To his credit, Gov. Rick Scott has stepped up, demanding that the state request the $19.2 million in federal funds available to harden the state’s voting system. Congress included $380 million in its 2018 budget bill for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to distribute to the states. President Trump signed the budget bill in March.

Scott rightly overruled Secretary of State Ken Detzner and his oblivious announcement last month that Florida would not seek those much-needed funds.

It was a stupendous lack of accountability to Florida’s voters, and Detzner quickly got on message after the governor pushed back. Last week, Detzner’s department formally requested the $19.2 million in grant funds.

It’s not as if the balloting system has not been a target. In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Russian hackers attempted to break into voting systems in at least five Florida counties. None, apparently, were in South Florida.

Rightly alarmed by these thwarted attempts, the governor asked the Legislature this year to fund five cybersecurity experts in his “Securing Florida’s Future” budget. The request was rejected.

Elections supervisors have a long wish list that the federal funds can, and should, fulfill. Items include toughening systems against hacking, improving technological security and educating voters.

It’s imperative that state officials give the counties every assist necessary. Ensuring cybersecurity is within their control. Unfortunately, not every attempt to undermine our elections can be handled with technological proficiency.

In a report by Tim Johnson of the McClatchy/D.C bureau, a California-based cybersecurity firm has identified a new Russian influence operation. It looks just like the one that the FBI said worked to hijack the 2016 presidential election.

“USA Really is a Russian-operated website that carries content designed to foment racial division, harden feelings over immigration, gun control and police brutality, and undermine social cohesion, according to the cybersecurity firm FireEye.

It will be harder to counter the manipulative, false and inflammatory stories created to sow discord among us. The fact-based media have a huge job to do in building trust among its consumers and calling lies exactly that.

It’s a chilling reminder that the enemies of democracy are bent on undermining what should be free and fair elections. It’s disappointing, too, when those efforts come from within. Scott himself has never decried legislative efforts to suppress the vote and continues a costly fight to deny ex-felons the right to cast ballots. University students are suing his administration over a ban on using buildings on college campuses as early voting sites.

We doubt that the governor is an enemy of democracy. He should bring these misguided policies into alignment with his enlightened support for cybersecurity.