Voting experts in Florida, the national epicenter of electoral suspense, have one concern above all others as they prepare for the 2018 election. Click. Cybersecurity. Efforts by Russian hackers to attack computers in Florida last fall failed, but shed light on potential vulnerabilities of an election system managed locally and in mostly small counties with limited technological resources. “It’s the main topic of conversation,” Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said at a conference of election supervisors. “I just don’t think you can have too many people looking at this stuff.” As Clark and dozens of her colleagues mingled at the Omni Champions Gate near Walt Disney World on Tuesday, they said they are more security-conscious than ever. On Thursday, officials will attend a seminar titled “Election Integrity in the Current Political and Media Environment.”
Nearly two decades ago, Florida was thrust into unprecedented scrutiny of its voting system after a deadlocked 2000 presidential election. The stuff of books, movies and monologues, it largely came down to punch-card ballots and hanging chads that left voters’ intentions hanging, too.
The new threat is seen as far more sinister because it’s blamed on a hostile foreign power, and it’s much harder to see. The first of two Russian hack attempts in Florida last August targeted VR Systems, a 25-year-old vendor of voting equipment software based in Tallahassee that serves 64 of the state’s 67 counties and does business in several other states.