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Sunday, Oct 20, 2019
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Editorial: Name 2 Florida counties hacked by Russians

So now it turns out the FBI says Russians hacked into election systems in 2016 in two Florida counties. And Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he has been told the names of the two counties. But he can't tell Floridians because it's some sort of national secret. That's ridiculous, and it's this kind of failure to be candid with voters that undermines public confidence in government and in the integrity of elections.

DeSantis revealed at a news conference that he met with officials from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security last week in Tallahassee to discuss the hacking. He said he was told the names of two counties where the local supervisor of elections office had "experienced intrusion'' into the voter data base before the 2016 election. But he said "they'' asked him to sign a nondisclosure agreement and not release the names of the counties to the public. That's unacceptable and an insult to Floridians. The governor should ask whoever "they'' are to release the information or let him release it.

Remember, it was DeSantis who reacted so strongly following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report that indicated the FBI believed Russians hacked into "at least one'' Florida county's election system. The revelation was reinforced by Sen. Marco Rubio's confirmation that Russian hackers were "in a position'' to change voter roll information. The governor promised to get answers, and he apparently did. Yet Floridians remain in the dark.

DeSantis' news conference also raised other questions that need answers. For example, he said he was told by federal officials that an elections security task force that included state officials was told in 2016 that county elections systems were hacked by Russians. Yet he doesn't believe then-Gov. Rick Scott or the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement knew it. But curiously, DeSantis has not talked about the issue with Scott, who defeated incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in November after criticizing Nelson for asserting during the campaign that hackers had breached a voter registration system. Somebody is engaging in revisionist history, and DeSantis ought to find out who and why. Hint: It was never Nelson, who has been vindicated several times over by the Mueller Report, Rubio's recent comments and now the secret meeting between the feds and the new governor.

Second, DeSantis said Tuesday the Russian hacking "is something the counties knew about'' and the FBI was working with them before the election. That's odd. Many county supervisors of elections have consistently said they do not know whose voter data base was hacked by Russians. Rubio recently told the New York Times that the local elections officials who were the target or targets were never told and only a general warning was issued. Which is it?

DeSantis and Rubio say there was no manipulation of any voter information by the hackers. They say election results were not compromised. Trust us, they are suggesting to Floridians. Everything is fine. Nothing to see here.

Blind trust is what contributed to the vulnerability of the elections system in the first place. Reality set in only as the bigger picture of Russian interference in the 2016 election became clearer, reinforced by the indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers, 13 Russians and three Russian companies. Add that to the vote counting issues in 2016 in South Florida and the scars from the 2000 presidential election recount. It's understandable why so many voters in this state are skeptical about the fairness of elections and reluctant to take public officials at their word.

Just remember how exasperated the governor was when he did not know where Russians hacked into Florida voting data bases.

"They won't tell us which county it was,'' DeSantis responded earlier this month. "Are you kidding me?''

Now the governor knows the names of the counties and thinks they should be publicly revealed, but he just can't because he signed a nondisclosure agreement with the federal government.

Are you kidding us?

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