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SWFL, state tightens election security ahead of primary election

With another election looming, we looked at whether your vote is safe in Southwest Florida. It’s a concern on everyone’s minds after investigations into foreign hackers uncovered our democracy is under attack. We spoke to election officials of our region to see what is being done to protect everyone’s right to vote.

Election supervisors statewide are prepping for the 2020 Florida Democratic primary election in March.

Jennifer Edwards, the Collier County Supervisor of Elections, said voter confidence is critical.

“That’s why we do everything that we can do,” Edwards said.

During the 2016 presidential election, Collier County experienced a break-in attempt of its voting system. But Edwards told us her team was well trained and dodged the threat.

“In 2016, we received a phishing email in Collier,” Edwards said. “Our staff is trained not to click on it, not to open it if it looks suspicious.”

Collier wasn’t the only county that faced threats. In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Russians accessed voting databases in the state.

“Two Florida counties experienced intrusion,” DeSantis said during a press conference last year.

The state won’t release the names of the counties that were targeted, but Collier, Lee and Charlotte officials told us its systems were not threatened.

Meanwhile, voting technology continues to evolve but so do hackers’ techniques.

The state is working to further protect voters and their election decisions. It has spent millions of dollars on new servers, software and security and even sent employees in to test that system.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is also in charge of election security. CISA spokeswoman Brittany Trotter told us DHS funded intrusion detection sensors in all 50 states, and Florida was among the first to receive them in all of its counties.

“Florida was one of the first to deploy these sensors for the protection of election infrastructure in all of its counties,” Trotter said.

Edwards said her office has done its best to keep the vote of those in Collier safe. She says none of its systems are connected to the internet.

“The results on election night are transmitted wirelessly,” Edwards said.

Transmitting results wirelessly could still open the doors to attacks. But voting results are encrypted, and hey are sent to a secure command post for tabulation. To add extra protection, there is a paper trail of every vote and every voter.

“We send a hard copy of voter registration roll to every precinct,” Edwards said. “To ensure every Florida county is protected and secure as possible.”

Reporter:Rich Kolko
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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