TALLAHASSEE – A new book by veteran reporter Bob Woodward claims Russian hackers successfully broke into St. Lucie County voter files in 2016, a claim county election officials previously denied in interviews with POLITICO.
The identity of two counties the Russians had access to during the last presidential election has been a mystery since Special Adviser Robert Mueller revealed in 2019 that Russian hackers had broken into the battlefield state’s voting recorders. .
The FBI and the Homeland Security Department informed Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Congressional delegation about the Russian attack in May 2019 and revealed that hackers had gained access to files in two counties. No vote totals were affected, but federal officials demanded that the names of the two counties be kept confidential.
Last year POLITICIAN identified Washington County in the Florida Panhandle as one of two counties.
A senior official privately identified St. Lucie as the second county. But Gertrude Walker, St. Lucie County election supervisor, and her system administrator, John Spradlin, told POLITICO in December 2019 that their system had not been infiltrated.
“I’d be the first to know. I’m the IT guy, ”Spradlin said in an interview at a state election supervisors conference held at a central Florida golf resort.
Spradlin said federal officials did not provide the county with any information suggesting its systems had been breached during the 2016 election.
“Nothing happened in 2016,” Spradlin said.
St. Lucie – like other counties – had received a warning of phishing emails designed to mimic those from a provider of voter registration systems, he said.
“All we knew was the whole thing with those phishing emails,” Spradlin said. Any talk about Russians breaking into voter registration systems in St. Lucie “would be new to me,” he said in 2019.
Walker stood beside Spradlin as he answered questions about the Russians.
Walker, a Democrat, was not immediately reached for comment late Thursday.
State officials greeted the news with shock.
“This is very, very, very troubling to me that this happened in St. Lucie County, especially during this controversial election season,” said State Senator Gayle Harrell, who represents a large portion of St. Lucie County. . “I will certainly get in touch with Gertrude Walker to hear directly from her about what she has done to make sure our county electoral infrastructure is secure.”
CNN, reporting on an advance copy of Woodward’s book, claimed to have identified St. Lucie and Washington counties as the two Florida jurisdictions successfully violated by the Russians.
Washington County, which has approximately 25,000 residents, is located in the middle of the Panhandle. Trump in 2016 received 77% of the more than 11,000 votes cast in the county.
Trump won St. Lucia in 2016 with less than 50% of nearly 141,000 votes cast. Former President Barack Obama had won the county four years earlier.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) Said the details revealed in Woodward’s book show why local and state officials need to be notified when election systems are breached.
“These reports continue to show how recklessly voters are kept in the dark by our government about election meddling and how this confusion only serves to destabilize confidence in our democracy,” Murphy said in a written statement. “We cannot combat foreign interference if voters are unaware of potential intrusions and cannot take steps to verify the integrity of their voting information.”
Rep Brian Mast, a Republican, repeated his request to declassify the information and asked Walker for a report on any internal changes he made.
“At least a year ago, most of the members of the Florida delegation and I asked for information on this to be declassified,” he said. “It hasn’t been like that yet I can’t talk about what I know from classified briefings.”
Matt Dixon and Marc Caputo contributed to this report.