TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (FNN) – Many of the legislative committees are meeting in preparation for the upcoming legislative session on March 2, 2021.
The Public Integrity and Elections Committee met on February 9, 2021, to discuss whether or not Florida’s laws are working to produce secure, reliable, fair, and efficient elections. The presentations during this meeting were intended:
- Give the members of the committee an opportunity to learn more about the nuances of election law
- To appreciate what went right in the 2020 election
- To evaluate areas where there might be room for improvement
Secretary of State Laurel Lee talked about the physical and cybersecurity of the elections, with her main focus being on infrastructure.
On May 22, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis instructed Secretary Lee to do a review of the statewide elections infrastructure to identify any vulnerabilities and address any vulnerabilities that were identified not only at the state level but across all 67 counties.
To create a baseline, the Department of State needed reliable information and the same information across all counties. The Department developed a plan along with the Supervisors of Elections from across the state. This plan involved sending Department of State cyber navigators to each of the 67 counties to conduct an election specific risk assessment on the individual networks.
This meant for the first time ever, the State Department had statewide visibility on the elections related systems, networks, and physical facilities. They were then able to send resources and personnel to the areas most in need and to work side-by-side with each county to address and mitigate any vulnerabilities.
Secretary Lee said that with the help of our federal partners, which included the US Attorney, FBI, and Homeland Security all critical intelligence and threat information was passed along in a timely manner and these partners helped in the fight against election-related misinformation.
Another new thing for this election was that the state joined the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) in order to enhance election security and maintain accurate voter rolls. Membership in ERIC allowed the state and the Supervisors of Elections to cross-check their rolls with those of all other member states to find deceased voters, duplicate registrations, or other list maintenance activities in order to maintain more accurate and up-to-date rolls.
The State Department also used ERIC to conduct the state’s most sweeping effort to date to register new voters. 2.2 billion postcards were sent out to potential voters. Within 10 days of the households starting to receive those postcards, the state saw 300,000 new registrations with a total of 14.4 million registered voters this year which is an increase of 1.4 million.
Secretary Lee applauded Judge Pete Antonacci, former Supervisor of Elections in Broward County for his and his team’s work on correcting the many problems plaguing Broward County elections. She said that in 2020, Broward County was truly a success story.
When asked by the committee about the breakdown in the online voter registration site this year and in past years, Secretary Lee said that her office had made improvements to the system but they were only expecting to handle 100,000’s of thousands of new registrations on the last night of registration but instead they had millions of voters trying to register. Her office immediately began to upgrade the system and she extended the deadline for another 24 hours, giving voters time to register online. Secretary Lee said that improvements have been made to the programming as well as the system capacity so that the online registration system now will be able to handle huge numbers of voters who may try to register online.
Judge Antonacci offered his observations to the committee from his time as Elections Supervisor. Judge Antonacci said that his biggest concern is with mail-in ballots. Broward County received 475,000 mail-in ballots over a 32-day period in the 2020 election. He said that verifying signatures is definitely an area that needs improvement. Antonacci also said that vote by mail request lists are available to certain political entities which makes ballot harvesting possible because these entities can now show up at a voter’s home and this should be addressed by the legislature.
Judge Antonacci also said that he was concerned about the people who came to the dropbox sites and deposited large numbers of mail-in ballots. He feels that there should be a limit to the number of ballots that are allowed to be dropped off by one person.
Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley disagreed with this observation by pointing out that because of the pandemic, many neighborhoods had one person designated to pick up all the mail-in ballots for the neighborhood and drop them off at a dropbox location. He also said that he knew of many families in his county that did the same thing.
The committee appeared to have their concerns and questions addressed. There were a few questions posed to Secretary Lee that she did not have the answer to but she promised to get those answers for the committee.
Lynn DeJarnette is a reporter for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org