CLOSE

Voters in 5 US states go to the polls Tuesday as election safety specialists say there is no such thing as a proof of widespread voter fraud by mail-in voting. (August 4)

AP Home

With days to go, Florida has didn’t spend greater than $10 million designated for election safety, COVID-19 safety on the polls and a surge in mailed ballots.

A big piece of that pie is $3.5 million that Secretary of State Laurel Lee requested from the Legislature earlier this 12 months for the state’s 67 county supervisors of elections to shore up their methods.

The counties did not ask for that cash. And it stays unspent, sitting in a state account as “unbudgeted reserve.”

One other chunk of pie left on the plate is $6 million in CARES Act funds that 19 counties determined to not benefit from, which might be used to make polling locations safer for voters and rent additional folks to depend mail-in ballots.

Because the state’s prime election official, Lee insists Florida is prepared. 

“Florida may be very nicely located to proceed to our November election,” Lee stated.

Lee stated the identical factor about ensuring the web voter registration system might deal with the onslaught of latest candidates. However it crashed on the final day folks have been allowed to use to vote, forcing Lee to increase the deadline and sparking a authorized problem to increase it additional.

Extra:On day of deadline, Florida voter registration web site crashes, is down for hours

Extra:Federal choose will not lengthen voter registration in Florida, criticizes state over failures

How a lot the state spent to broaden the load capability for the web voting system stays a thriller as officers haven’t responded to repeated requests for that data.

“I am extremely annoyed to listen to that these {dollars} should not being spent this near the election,” stated state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. “It is wild, particularly whenever you request the cash and it isn’t even being utilized in one of many greatest swing states.”

Any extra cash needs to be spent on election safety to make sure that voters belief the system and that Florida has a fast, correct supply of the outcomes to dispel any doubts the president or others might have in regards to the consequence, Eskamani stated.

“We’d like to ensure these outcomes are clear minimize,” stated Eskamani, who has been monitoring actions on the polls throughout early voting, recruiting ballot employees and collaborating in marketing campaign occasions for former Vice President Joe Biden.

Brad Ashwell, Florida director for the voter rights advocacy group All Voting is Native, was surprised to listen to that election safety cash was obtainable for county supervisors however not used.

“One factor is for certain, they’ll’t use not having assets as an excuse,” he stated.

Election safety

An evaluation of publicly obtainable funds information on the state-run Transparency Florida web site maintained by the Division of Monetary Companies discovered Florida spent a little bit over $17 million of the $37 million authorised for the Division of Elections’ 2020-21 funds that started July 1.

However “simply because the state hasn’t spent all the cash doesn’t imply they don’t have the whole lot in place to have a secure and safe election,” stated Juan Gilbert, an professional in elections expertise and chair of the Laptop & Info Science & Engineering Division on the College of Florida.

Franklin County issued a information launch Tuesday outlining the steps being taken to make sure election safety (Picture: Submitted photograph)

He speculated that a few of that cash is being held again for post-election issues that may come up, together with investigations, audits and technical malfunctions.

“I believe quite a lot of funding shall be wanted after everybody votes to affirm the outcomes,” Gilbert stated in an e mail. “There’ll doubtless be challenges to the outcomes, so doing audits and cybersecurity/forensics post-votes will value.”

Mark Ard, spokesman for the Secretary of State, confirmed that among the cash is being saved for future years. 

However a lot is driving on Florida proper now — the nation’s largest swing state and a sordid historical past of hacking, recounts and authorized disputes.

Extra:No ‘alternative to be incorrect’: Officers handle voter expectations for election evening

Lee has made that clear in public service bulletins and on Twitter.

She additionally acknowledged Florida’s significance this 12 months and the problem of operating elections in a short filed by her attorneys in a latest Florida Supreme Court docket case in search of to forestall the Secretary of State from counting votes on Modification 3, the open primaries constitutional modification.

“This isn’t a typical Common Election, throughout which Florida’s elections officers should guarantee election integrity all through the nation’s most vital swing state,” Lee stated. “In the very best of instances, it’s troublesome sufficient to handle over 14 million registered voters who’re unfold throughout two time zones and over 6,000 separate voting precincts. This 12 months, nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic provides a layer of complexity that’s aggravated by misinformation regarding the election.”

However when it got here time to ask the Legislature for cash to shore up voting methods towards cyber hackers, Lee requested solely 16% of the $21.5 million Congress gave Florida from the Assist America Vote Act.

The Assist America Vote Act, or HAVA, was created in Congress in 2002, after the presidential election fiasco of 2000, to make sweeping reforms to voter laws and supply monetary help to assist state and native elections officers modernize their election methods.

When requested in September throughout a one-on-one interview with a USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida reporter why she did not request the total quantity for this election cycle, Lee stated she did not suppose the counties would be capable to spend it quick sufficient.

Seems, the counties did not even request that cash.

The HAVA support was authorised by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, 2019.

State elections officers had initially deliberate to spend $6.7 million of that new HAVA cash throughout the previous couple of months of the 2019-20 funds cycle that ended June 30. At the moment, a one-sheet produced by the Division of Elections outlined a preliminary spending plan for the funds that included:

  • $1.975 million to create an internet grant program for the county supervisors to make use of to enhance their voting methods. 
  • $800,000 to create a separate grant program for the supervisors to spend on voter entry to make it simpler to find and get to polling locations and to make ballot books extra obtainable and voting methods extra handy. 
  • $Three million “to bolster inner Division of State infrastructure and implement safety enhancements to the Florida Voter Registration System. 
  • $750,000 for a voter schooling marketing campaign.

However over $Three million of it was swept again into the financial institution when Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all departments to chop their budgets after revenues fell sharply as a result of financial disruption attributable to the pandemic. 

The Florida Legislature in March authorised spending $4.5 million of the brand new HAVA cash within the 2020-21 funds cycle that started July 1. That quantity included the $3.5 million in HAVA funds for election safety for the counties and $1 million to deal with any vulnerabilities within the state’s election infrastructure. 

“These funds have been requested as a part of the Division’s total strategic plan for elections safety,” stated Ard, the spokesman for the Secretary of State. 

He stated these funds have been additionally supposed to assist pay for the Albert community monitoring system, created by the Middle for Web Safety for detecting hacking and phishing makes an attempt, and different election security-related bills. 

The stability of the $21.5 million HAVA grant — almost $12 million — has been earmarked to be used over the following a number of years to bolster election safety, he stated.

“Not all priorities in our strategic plan are pre-election spending, and these funds could also be within the type of an upfront spend — or advance fee — or a reimbursement requested by a Supervisor of Elections,” Ard stated.

Ard additionally stated the division made $2.Four million obtainable to supervisors in preparation for the upcoming election. However a search of on-line information could not verify that allocation within the current funds cycle.

COVID-19 safety

The state additionally obtained $20.2 million in CARES Act cash from Congress to assist counties make polling locations secure for voters within the pandemic and to accommodate the massive improve in mailed-in ballots.

DeSantis waited two months to use for Florida’s share, prompting a bipartisan letter from the Florida congressional delegation urging him to request the funds. The letter additionally highlighted the considerations of county elections supervisors over the numerous challenges they confronted throughout the March presidential choice major resulting from COVID-19.

Extra:Federal COVID-19 funds for Florida election supervisors delayed over a month, anticipated this week

Supervisors additionally shared their concern about elevated administrative prices to make sure voter and ballot employee security, the letter stated.

Releasing the CARES cash to the county supervisors was additional delayed, with out clarification, till weeks earlier than the August major.

The delay compelled a number of supervisors to spend cash earmarked for different bills so they might purchase COVID-19 provides and put together polling locations in response to social distancing tips.

Counties that did not get to apply for the cash up entrance might submit reimbursement requests.

Forty-eight counties utilized for the grants and obtained a complete of $14.Three million, in response to the Division of State. However 19 counties didn’t avail themselves of the federal grant cash, leaving $5.9 million on the desk. These counties embody Charlotte, Duval, Palm Seashore and Volusia.

Counties that have not submitted requests but can apply for reimbursement after the election, Ard stated.

Voter registration system

One of many essential areas the place the state wanted to take a position was in its on-line voter registration system, which has crashed a minimum of 5 instances because it went stay in 2017, together with on the Oct. 5 deadline for registering to vote.

But solely $775,000 of the $2.2 million budgeted for the statewide system was spent, in response to the Transparency Florida web site. And none of it seems for use for increasing the load capability to take care of the surge in voters making use of on-line.

Ard stated that quantity displays how a lot has been spent thus far, calling it “an annual appropriation for the upkeep and operations of the Florida Voter Registration System.”

Through the interview final month, Lee stated data expertise employees have been “working very exhausting to extend load capability” and add further servers to the web voter registration system to deal with the anticipated surge of latest candidates given the system’s propensity for crashing throughout peak hundreds up to now. 

The net information do not specify if that cash was spent to purchase servers and different gear to “broaden the load capability.” Questions despatched to the state weren’t answered.

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Invoice Cowles, whose voters inhabit the famed I-Four hall many pundits say is the street to the White Home, stated it was “disheartening that the system could not deal with the capability.”

Autoplay

Present Thumbnails

Present Captions

Final SlideNext Slide

Extra unspent funds

A lot of the Division of Election’s $37 million funds is tapped for annual bills, akin to salaries and advantages, different personnel companies, knowledge processing and capital outlay, officers defined. 

However USA TODAY Community – Florida recognized about $14 million in unspent state and federal funds that would have been used on election safety, the voter registration system, COVID-19 and guarding towards election fraud.

In additon to the unspent HAVA and CARES Act cash, these different classes present unspent funds:

  • A grant of $553,000 from the Middle for Election and Innovation & Analysis for COVID-19 voter schooling that remained untouched. “We now have contracted with quite a few media retailers, together with print media and radio, to put voter schooling and consciousness advertisements associated to voting choices and public well being measures that shall be noticed throughout voting,” Ard stated. “These advertisements are presently operating and pays invoices as every deliverable is met.” 
  • About $278,000 of the $525,000 appropriated for voting system help stays unspent. “This funding class is used to help Supervisors of Elections for substitute of outdated voting methods,” Ard stated. 
  • Solely $163,000 of the $1.28 million put aside to promote proposed constitutional amendments was spent. Ard stated the division remains to be paying off the rest of commercial prices to newspapers and different media throughout the state and the publication of constitutional modification booklets.
  • Solely 10% of the $446,000 put aside to forestall election fraud was used. That is an annual appropriation, Ard stated, and the quantity solely displays spending within the first quarter.
  • About $705,000 of the $1.5 million for particular elections has been spent thus far.

“It’s infuriating,” Ashwell stated. “There are a ton of issues supervisors might spend that cash on.”

They might purchase extra protecting gear, hand sanitizers, masks and extra drop containers, he stated, in addition to rent extra folks to assist depend the extra mail-in ballots.

When the primary state financial report confirmed an enormous drop in tax income as a result of pandemic, Democratic legislators needed to carry a particular session to debate finest methods to deal with the downturn. Among the many prime gadgets on their agenda was whether or not the state was spending sufficient on the upcoming election, Eskamani stated.

That session by no means occurred.

Due to COVID-19, polling locations are at 50% of their constructing capability to make sure social distancing, and that creates delays, Eskamani stated.

“We might have spent the additional {dollars} so as to add extra early voting websites,” Eskamani stated. “This should not be taking place underneath any circumstances.”

County election officers nationwide are beholden to state officers as a result of these federal {dollars} undergo the state, stated Larry Norden, director of the election reform program on the Brennan Middle for Justice, a nonpartisan legislation and coverage institute at New York College College of Regulation.

“County officers across the nation are annoyed with states blocking the cash they want,” Norden stated.

Norden stated these unused funds might assist pay for plenty of issues to assist folks really feel safer after they go to the polls and extra reassured that their vote shall be recorded.

However the state additionally might produce other makes use of in thoughts for these unspent funds.

“It could be there are issues they need to do which can be very costly or long-term investments the place it will not make sense to spend all that cash without delay or in a presidential 12 months,” he stated, giving as examples a significant improve to the voter registration system or long-term election safety hires.

“The satan is within the particulars, however it’s not loopy to need to spend money on safety over the long-haul,” Norden stated. “The issue isn’t static, and it doesn’t go away after November.”

Voter confidence

Mark Earley, supervisor of elections for Leon County and vp of the Florida Supervisors of Elections affiliation, stated he believes the state has been very useful in offering assets to the native officers.

The counties obtained their first massive spherical of election safety cash from Congress in 2018 — $14.6 million out of $19 million in HAVA funds. They needed to signal confidentiality agreements to get the help, however the state, together with the Division of Homeland Safety, helped establish deficiencies of their safety and really useful what gear to purchase.

Extra:Will your vote depend? Florida’s secrecy about election safety makes it almost not possible to know

Extra:After Florida was hacked in 2016 election, state bought thousands and thousands for election safety. This is the way it was spent

And in 2019, DeSantis returned $2.Three million of the unspent portion of that federal grant to the counties that hadn’t spent all their share, and the Legislature kicked in a further $2.eight million.

Lee additionally obtained $1.Three million to create a cybersecurity division within the Division of State and one other $1 million to assist the counties deal with points as they cropped up.

She additionally created the Joint Election Safety Initiative with all 67 counties, performed tabletop workout routines with the Division of Homeland Safety and the FBI, and audited all 67 county election departments for vulnerabilities.

Lee additionally began a staff of 10 IT specialists, known as cyber navigators, and employed 9 further IT folks to help smaller counties that had restricted assets to shore up their protection methods towards hackers.

Underneath the path of DeSantis, the state additionally joined the Digital Registration Info Middle created by the Pew Facilities to assist establish out-of-date information by evaluating knowledge with different states. And she or he bought all 67 counties hooked as much as Albert.

The state is in a each day battle to instill voter confidence within the system, which isn’t solely underneath bodily assault from hackers however underneath a relentless barrage of misinformation, Lee stated.

“There’s unprecedented cooperation between the state and native officers,” she stated. “If we succeed, will probably be a hit story of a magnitude not seen in state authorities.”

Relating to the safety of the election, Cowles, Orange County’s supervisor of elections, stated, “I feel all of the supervisors are assured within the safety, that we’re positioning ourselves to have a very good election.”

Contact Jeff Schweers at [email protected] and observe him on Twitter @jeffschweers.

Subscribe at present utilizing the hyperlink on the prime of the web page and by no means miss a narrative.

Learn or Share this story: https://www.tallahassee.com/story/information/native/state/2020/10/29/florida-failed-spend-10-million-election-security-covid-protection-voter-access/6051203002/