Northeast Florida Supervisors seek election security funding

Jacksonville, FL — Florida has approved using a $19 million federal grant for election security, and Northeast Florida counties are trying to get their share.

The funding is part of $380 million in election security grants distributed across the nation. Every Florida county that applies is eligible for at least $50,000, with more being distributed based on the county’s voting age population, as measured by the 2010 census.

Duval County is seeking more than $540,000. Director of Information Technology Stan Bethea says a big part of that is for a system called ALBERT, which monitors network traffic and looks for malicious activity. The system further alerts about anything suspicious, like attempts to get in to the network. Bethea says ALBERT has been on their radar for several months and it is unlike anything they have now.

Some of the other Duval County requests include upgrading precinct tabulator modems to 4G, since their current 3G technology will not be supported much longer; higher resolution security cameras for their main office and election center; and upgrading the Windows operating system that’s currently used for electronic poll books at precincts on Election Day.

St. Johns County already has ALBERT- it’s one of many improvements that Supervisor of Elections Vicky Oakes says they’ve made in recent years. They’re seeking reimbursement for that from the State.

From the federal grant, Oakes says they have about $115,000 in requests. They’re looking to upgrade firewall protection technology with advanced threat protection and reaction capabilities and boost their backup system at the County Emergency Operations Center, among other things.

“They’re additional layers of protections that we don’t have the funding to do right now. However, all of the steps that we’ve already taken already, I feel very confident. I have the confidence in our system that we have in place at this time,” Oakes says.

Baker County’s ask is around $66,000, with Supervisor of Elections Nita Crawford looking for a lot of infrastructure improvements at their office.

“We can, and have, operated with it this far, but it could also be better for security,” she says.

They’re requesting funding to put new locks around the office, including rooms where they secure ballots, the entrance, the server room, and more; upgrades for their driver’s license scanning system; upgraded cameras for the office’ two new printers for ballots at their office; and a backup plan that would allow them to store things in Tallahassee.

Clay County Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless did not want to go in to many specifics about how much they were asking for and what that funding would cover, but he says they’re generally looking to improve what are already some good systems.

“Election security from a physical standpoint, for strengthening our systems, specifically for- you know- intrusion and detection and remediation,” Chambless says.

Regardless of what specifically he’s looking to obtain, he shared the same message as the other local supervisors- whether or not these improvements are made ahead of the August primary, they’re ready for the election.

“The public should rest assured that, in the State of Florida, there has never been a penetration of a tabulation network or of a voter registration network, and that security is always on the forefront of our minds, even prior to this current cybersecurity threat,” he says.

The Associated Press reports that recent federal indictments on alleged attempted Russian hacking of the 2016 presidential election showed that county offices in Florida and two other states were targeted. Florida election officials have declined to say specifically which counties.

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