Supervisor of elections discusses hacker prevention in voter database

County elections supervisors have been making security improvements

ORLANDO, Fla. – As the country's largest swing state -- and one with a problematic track record -- it seems Florida is under a microscope every election. That microscope will intensify when voters head to the polls next year following Russian hacking in the 2016 election.

County elections supervisors have been busy making the necessary security improvements to prevent hackers from being able to access software systems and voter databases. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in January appointed Chris Anderson as supervisor of elections in Seminole County. 

Anderson joined anchor Justin Warmoth on "The Weekly on ClickOrlando.com" to discuss how his background in law enforcement will translate to his new role. 

Here's a portion of the interview: 

Warmoth: How does your background improve your ability to do your new job?

Anderson: I believe it suits me very well with my background in law enforcement security. We've upgraded all the tax collector offices with physical security, and in law enforcement, having the threat assessment training. Now, being the supervisor of elections and talking about the topic of security -- from cyber security to physical security -- is, I believe, a great asset to Seminole County. And I've displayed that. Since I've been in office, we've had penetration testing done from the Department of State. We are scheduled to have it done by the Department of Homeland Security -- both remote and in person. We have already had it done by the FBI. We are one of a handful of SOE offices that transmits our tabulation results on a private tunnel. These things have made our cyber security hygiene very strong. We will continue to strengthen it moving toward 2020.

Warmoth: Talk about what you've been doing to prepare for March -- the Democratic primary -- which is the first big task that you'll have. What are you doing between now and then and what have you already done? 

Anderson: Bill 7066 ushered in a lot of changes on July 1. So, we are systematically going through the bill, making sure we are dotting our i's and crossing our t's, and making the necessary changes. There are changes to your vote-by-mail envelope that will now include a place for your phone number and your email address. Those things were in the voter certificate and that has changed as well. And that's also on the provisional envelope. So, those changes have to be made. These little small details and then we got back and forth with our print vendors to make sure that everything is right. Also, getting our staff. We have new employees that come in. We need to get them trained and ready to go. Bill 5 ushered in changes to petitions. We have seen a high increase in the petitions that have come in an off-election year. The staff is focused on making sure that we meet the deadlines for those petitions and also making the necessary changes within our office to make sure that we are operating under the law. 

Warmoth: Florida is always under a microscope, I don't have to tell you that. It will be absolutely under probably the next stage of a microscope in 2020 -- especially after what happened in the midterms. Seminole County has a fantastic reputation, but other counties in the state don't. How do you see this all playing out? What do you envision in 2020? A smooth process? 

Anderson: Yes. 

Warmoth: I-4 corridor is going to be massive. 

Anderson: Absolutely. The tip of Florida goes blue. The panhandle goes red. And the I-4 corridor is the swing part of the largest swing state with 29 electoral votes. But to your point, I envision us being very successful. I've had the opportunity to be in the room with my colleagues from 66 other counties, and the teamwork and the camaraderie -- I know something about that being from being in the military and being in law enforcement and I can identify with that -- and I really like what I see. We are all there for each other. We're doing whatever we can do to help each other. We have to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Most people don't realize that early voting in the general election is during hurricane season -- some of the most active parts of it. So, preparations on that because a general election has to be held. There's no moving it back. We prepare for all those different things and that's teamwork because if something happens in our sister counties, we want to be able to assist and vice-versa. So, the teamwork among the SOE offices in the state is high. We have a great partnership now with the Department of State. As you saw, the initiative with the Department of State with our cybersecurity and that has been a great partnership.

Warmoth: Did Seminole County need those significant changes that some of the other counties may have needed? 

Anderson: No. We made purchases in 2017 and we have the most sophisticated voting equipment in the state right now. What we have to do is go around and make sure we maintaining our equipment, which we do every year. And most people don't know that we have to conduct a logic and accuracy test 10 days prior to an election. So, the state will come down and certify that those machines work prior to each election and that is actually open to the public. We'd like to see the public come out and witness that because that gives them a little more bit more security. You know, when I came in I sat down at the desk and said, "What do we do? What is our mission?" Ensuring your choice counts. Four words that are very impactful. That's what we do, from making sure our cyber security hygiene is up to par, our physical security, making sure we're following the law, that we're registering voters with our outreach, all these moving parts -- four words: ensuring your choice counts. 

Watch the full interview Sunday at 8 a.m. on News 6. 

About the Author: