Dem senator: Russians have 'penetrated' some Florida election systems

Dem senator: Russians have 'penetrated' some Florida election systems
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh controversy consumes Washington | Kavanaugh slated to testify Monday | Allegations shake up midterms Florida governor booed out of restaurant over red tide algae issues Juan Williams: America warms up to socialism MORE (D-Fla.) on Wednesday claimed Russian hackers had successfully "penetrated" some of Florida's election systems ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

"They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about," Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times

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Nelson said leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee encouraged him and fellow Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio unloads on Turkish chef for 'feasting' Venezuela's Maduro: 'I got pissed' For Poland, a time for justice Judiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh MORE (R) to notify Florida state election supervisors that "the Russians are in their records," according to the report.

Nelson told the news outlet that the state has to act quickly, emphasizing that Russia is trying to undermine faith in the U.S. democratic system.

The specifics of the activity remain unclear, including which counties were targeted and why it is believed to be the work of Russians.

 

DHS spokesperson Sara Sendek, however, says the law enforcement agency has not observed the new activity Nelson mentioned on Wednesday.

“While we are aware of Senator Nelson’s recent statements, we have not seen any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure," Sendek said in a statement, noting "a number of initiatives" that help Florida officials secure their election systems.

“We know that in 2016 Russian government cyber actors sought access to U.S. election infrastructure as part of a multifaceted operation directed at the U.S. elections. We continue to assess Russian actors were not able to access vote tallying systems, though we consider all 50 states to have been potential targets," she added.

Last month, Nelson and Rubio sent a joint letter urging state election officials to "take advantage" of the election security resources offered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

"County election boards should not be expected to stand alone against a hostile foreign government," reads the joint letter sent to 67 election supervisors.

"DHS will follow your lead and meet your needs with a tailored set of options. We encourage you in the strongest terms to take advantage of those resources, and to let us know about your experience with DHS and FBI."

When asked to elaborate on his Russia remarks, Nelson commented: “As Sen. Rubio and I wrote in our letter to the 67 county supervisors of elections, the threat is real and elections officials – at all levels – need to address the vulnerabilities.”

Rubio's office declined to comment.

Earlier this year, Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to provide cybersecurity funding to ensure the state's voting systems are properly secured against hacking ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

He noted that foreign actors targeted Florida in the 2016 presidential election and could seek to target the state again.

"With less than six months until Election Day, I urge you to promptly approve the State of Florida’s request so that the state may expedite their plans to strengthen our election systems," Rubio wrote in a May letter to the EAC. The letter sought $19.2 million in funding.

Within days, the EAC announced that it had granted Rubio's funding request.

Nelson's remarks come amid heightened fears that Russia is actively seeking to interfere in the upcoming midterms as well as other future U.S. elections.

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE, who is investigating Russia's 2016 election interference, last month indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for their involvement in the Democratic National Committee hack. He has also charged other Russian entities for carrying out sophisticated disinformation campaigns during the 2016 presidential race.

-- Updated Thursday, 8:18 a.m.