Low-Key Election Supervisors' Meeting Takes On New Dimension
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
An otherwise routine meeting of Florida election supervisors is anything but routine this time around. The meeting comes a week after new revelations about the 2016 election. We now know that Russian government hackers broke into election systems in two Florida counties. NPR national correspondent Pam Fessler is at the conference in Daytona Beach, Fla. Hi there, Pam.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: So what's the conversation about there?
FESSLER: Well, number one, security. All these supervisors want to make sure that their systems are protected not only against the kind of cyberattacks that we saw in 2016, but also against what new ones might be waiting around the corner. They know the hackers are out there, busy trying to figure out new ways to attack. And one sign of that concern is that Laurel Lee, who's the Florida secretary of state, actually interrupted one presentation yesterday to get up on stage and announce that Governor Ron DeSantis had just asked her to conduct a security review of all the election systems in the state.
INSKEEP: Wait a minute. It's like this conference - this kind of ordinarily dry conference, and it's - we interrupt this program for breaking news. It was that kind of thing.
FESSLER: That's right. Yeah, I mean, these election supervisors and DeSantis were very upset that they didn't know before last week that the Russians had broken into these two systems. They knew the Russians had tried, but they didn't know they succeeded, although apparently no voter information was changed. But it's not clear that this review's going to really address the supervisors' biggest concerns.
INSKEEP: Do the supervisors now have all the information they think they want and need?
FESSLER: No. I mean, they're upset that they didn't get this information sooner. There's been a lot of speculation about which two counties were attacked. That's still a secret. But the supervisors told me they don't really care where this happened. They wanted more information about exactly what the Russians did, what was done to address the problem so that they know how to protect themselves in the future.
Here's Wesley Wilcox. He's a supervisor of elections in Marion County, which has almost a quarter of a million voters.
WESLEY WILCOX: How am I to be held responsible for closing the door if I don't even know the door is open? I wish, at some point in time, we develop some framework for getting the information out.
FESSLER: Now, supposedly, that framework already exists. The Department of Homeland Security and FBI - they've been working really closely with these election officials over the past two years, but clearly not closely enough.
INSKEEP: So what are elections officials saying they want to do to make future elections more secure?
FESSLER: Well, I spoke with Paul Lux, who runs elections in Okaloosa County, and he's president of the Florida State Supervisors of Elections Association. He told me he sent a letter to the FBI after this news came out and told them that all these supervisors were meeting here this week, and it would be a really good time for the FBI to come and talk to them. But he didn't hear anything back. So Lux is not pleased that the supervisors have not been briefed.
PAUL LUX: You've told the governor. You've told our senators. You've told all of our congressional people. Who you haven't told are those of us who actually conduct the elections, need to keep the elections secure. We're the ones that are being kept in the dark.
INSKEEP: OK. So how are the election supervisors going to spend these next 10 months or so until the Florida presidential primary?
FESSLER: Well, both Lux and Wilcox said that maybe some of the election supervisors should get security clearances so that they can get some specific threat information. And...
INSKEEP: Oh, like from the federal government - that kind of security clearance.
FESSLER: Right. Right. And - because the state officials have it, but they want to get it, as well. I think some of them might, in fact, get that. But I also want to be clear. Florida's already doing a lot. The Department of Homeland Security tells me that's - this state's really more on top of election security than most, and they really seem to be making a lot of progress.
INSKEEP: Pam, thanks so much.
FESSLER: OK. Thanks a lot.
INSKEEP: NPR's Pam Fessler on MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.