Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday overruled his chief elections official and ordered him to seek $19.2 million in federal money to help counties defend their voting systems against possible cyberattacks in the 2018 election. Scott’s intervention came hours after the Herald/Times quoted the official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, as saying the federal money would not be available before November because accepting it requires approval by the Legislature — even though that step is a formality that could be done at a brief meeting. “The answer is no,” Detzner said earlier this week when asked if the aid money could be used to improve election systems this year. “We don’t have the authority to spend that money without legislative approval.” That was unwelcome news for county elections officials, who are desperate for money.
Detzner spoke to reporters Tuesday evening in Fort Lauderdale at a statewide conference of election supervisors, where the biggest issue by far was how to protect the election systems in the nation’s most important political swing state from malicious intrusions, like the attempted Russian hack in 2016.
But Scott’s reversal, in a statement sent at noon Wednesday, gave the issue added urgency and underscores a heightened sense of political sensitivity in a year in which the governor is seeking a U.S. Senate seat.
It also revealed Detzner to be off-message in an administration known for being highly disciplined in its communications.