Tuesday’s primary is a dry run for democracy in a tense time of cyber-threats. It will be the most thorough test of voting operations since Russian operatives tried to hack Florida voting rolls before the 2016 presidential election. But it’s not one election, it’s 67 — one in every county from the Key West to Pensacola. As counties plan for what’s often a low-turnout election, they have spent millions of dollars safeguarding computer servers, installing surveillance cameras and card readers, building security barriers and training workers to detect threats they can’t see. “We want to make sure that our employees know what a phishing email looks like,” says Lisa Lewis, supervisor of elections in Volusia County, a county the Russians targeted two years ago. “If there’s no subject line, I tell people, ‘Don’t open it.’ ”
Election workers have taken cyber-security training classes, the Department of Homeland Security has inspected counties’ operations and a U.S. senator has issued ominous and unproven warnings that Russians are meddling in voting records.
It happened before. In 2016, Russians tried to penetrate voting systems in at least five counties: Hillsborough, Pasco, Citrus, Clay and Volusia, according to the National Security Agency, and Russian actors targeted VR Systems, a vendor that sells voter registration software to most Florida counties.
Like most states, Florida’s voting apparatus is decentralized. Votes are counted in 67 places and merged into a final result in Tallahassee, giving bad actors a multitude of options to disrupt a system seen as highly vulnerable to intrusions, or “a beacon for interference,” as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio describes it.