Florida won’t tap into $19 million of federal election money in time for 2018 elections

May 23–Florida doesn’t plan to tap its $19.2 million allocation from the federal government to enhance election cybersecurity in time for this year’s primary election in August or general election in November.

A total of $380 million was allocated for the states to improve election security and technology. The money was contained in the massive federal budget deal passed in March.

Florida’s top election official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, said Tuesday the state wouldn’t be spending the money for this year’s elections.

“The answer is no,” he said during a break at the spring conference of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections in Fort Lauderdale.

Detzner said that doesn’t mean Florida is unprepared for cyber threats to its election system.

He said state and local governments are aware of potential cybersecurity threats and working diligently to protect the integrity of the 2018 elections. He said the state would “cover every base when it comes to cyber security. We are absolutely not too late. We are on time. We are on schedule.”

Earlier, speaking to more than 200 elections supervisors and their staffers, Detzner devoted most of his remarks to reassuring the public about election security.

“I believe that we have an extremely positive story to tell and all state and local elected officials are taking the potential threat of cyber activity very, very seriously and we are taking the critical steps to ensure that the security of our elections and the integrity of our elections are safe,” Detzner said.

State and county governments are involved in running elections in Florida. On the state level, the Division of Elections in Detzner’s office oversees elections, which are run by the supervisors of election in each county.

Not using the $19.2 million this year doesn’t mean the state is doing nothing, Detzner said.

The state is hiring five cybersecurity consultants to help the state agency and county supervisors of elections, he said. The state is also getting ready to distribute $1.9 million in grants to county elections offices to buy network monitoring security system that identifies and shares information about potential threats and provides around the clock checks of government systems.

And Matthew Frost, protective security adviser for South Florida for the Department of Homeland Security, said his agency has participated in security reviews of 17 county elections offices, and plans to assess more, to help the elections supervisors figure out if they have undetected vulnerabilities and what they can do about them.

Detzner said his agency is working on an application to the federal government for how Florida would use the $19 million.

But he doesn’t have a timetable for submitting the application and cited several reasons why it wouldn’t be drawn down for immediate use.

Detzner said he doesn’t have authority from the state Legislature to spend the money. (The Legislative Budget Commission could authorize spending before the next legislative session, but Detzner downplayed the likelihood that he’d pursue that avenue.)

Detzner also said there is still about $3 million in unspent federal money from the past that could be used for any pressing, unmet needs in advance of this year’s election. The new, $19.2 million is a precious allocation that the state shouldn’t rush to spend, he said.

“It’s easy and nice to have money,” Detzner said, adding that “I want to make sure that this $19 million looks at what are the real needs, short term and long term. … We want to have a plan. We want to make sure that this $19 million can serve us not only for this election year but for future election years too because when that money is gone we don’t know if there will ever be any money again.”

In a March 29 announcement that the money was available, Thomas Hicks, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, said his agency was “committed to making these funds available as soon as feasibly possible, and we fully expect this money will be deployed in meaningful ways to support the 2018 elections.” But the agency added, the money didn’t have to be used that quickly. It said the money could be “utilized possibly in the 2018 election cycle.”

States have to provide a match of 5 percent of the allocation. In Florida’s case that would be $959,000.

Detzner said there is a good working relationship among the Division of Elections, supervisors of elections, state agencies such as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. “The current level of coordination … on elections security is unprecedented. These strong partnerships will help ensure elections in Florida and across the country are going to be fair, accurate and secure in 2018 and beyond.”

Detzner cautioned the supervisors of elections not to ignore other priorities while focusing on cyber threats. “Even though cybersecurity is receiving all the attention, it is extremely important we don’t let this distract us from all the other important business of election administration.”

Don’t forget about the threat of hurricanes, which can disrupt the primary and general elections, Detzner said. He reminded officials that connecting with emergency management officials and reviewing their disaster plans is “very, very important.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.