Politics

Bill Nelson Says Florida Election Systems Compromised by Russians

Senate Intelligence Committee avoids confirming or denying Democratic senator’s statement

Sen. Bill Nelson, right said he and fellow Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were made aware of Russian penetration of Florida election systems. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

If the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee told Sen. Bill Nelson to alert Florida election officials about Russian interference in their systems, they aren’t saying.

Nelson, a Florida Democrat on the ballot in 2018, was quoted by the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday saying that, “We were requested by the chairman and vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee to let the supervisors of election in Florida know that the Russians are in their records.”

The day before, the newspaper reported that Nelson was declining to get into specifics of penetration into Sunshine State election systems, saying “that’s classified.”

But even as state officials seemed unaware of any specific threat from Russia, the offices of Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr of North Carolina and Vice Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia were careful to neither confirm nor deny what Nelson was telling reporters.

A spokeswoman for Burr declined a request for comment from Roll Call, and Warner’s response came in the form of a carefully worded statement.

“Russian activities continue to pose a threat to the security of our elections, as Senators Nelson and [Marco] Rubio rightly pointed out in their letter. As Vice Chair of SSCI, I hope all state and local elections officials, including Florida’s, will take this issue seriously,” said Warner.

Rubio, a Florida Republican who serves on the Intelligence Committee, had led letters with Nelson to the secretary of state and 67 supervisors of elections encouraging coordination with the Department of Homeland Security in securing the election infrastructure.

“The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recently released a summary of its findings regarding the scanning and penetration of state systems in 2016, along with recommendations for addressing vulnerabilities,” Rubio and Nelson wrote. “Those findings included that Russia was preparing to undermine confidence in our voting process and that, in a small number of cases, cyber actors affiliated with the Russian Government accessed voter registration databases.”

The letters, which were released at the time, were dated July 2.

“Elections run by local officials are the bedrock of our democracy. Our decentralized system is a strength, but it also means the responsibility resides with each of us to be sure our locality is secure,” Rubio and Nelson wrote. “We look forward to working with you, DHS, and FBI to ensure successful and secure elections this year.”

The Florida Department of State has been reported to have said it “has received zero information from Senator Nelson or his staff that support his claims.”

Reached Thursday morning, Rubio’s office also declined to offer comment on the specific comment made Wednesday by Nelson about a request from Burr and Warner to advise state and local officials of the election security threat.

Nelson is expected to face off against Republican Gov. Rick Scott in November in what is likely to be among the most expensive races of the cycle. The Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales/Roll Call ratings have the Florida Senate contest in the Toss-up column.

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