TALLAHASSEE – A new book by veteran journalist Bob Woodward claims that Russian hackers successfully penetrated the election files of St. Lucy County in 2016, a claim that county election officials deny in interviews with POLITICO.
The identities of two counties accessed by Russians during the last presidential election are a mystery, as special lawyer Robert Mueller revealed in 2019 that Russian hackers had hacked into the country’s voice registration systems on the battlefield.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in May 2019 informed Governor Ron Desantis and the Florida congressional delegation of the Russian attack and revealed that the hackers had access to files in two counties. The total number of votes was not affected, but federal officials demanded that the names of the two counties be entrusted.
POLITICO last year designated Washington DC’s Florida Panhandle as one of two counties.
A high-ranking private official named St. Lucy as the second county. But St. Lucy County Election Supervisor Gertrude Walker and her system administrator John Spradlin told POLITICO in December 2019 that their system had not been infiltrated.
“I would be the first person to know about it. “I’m an IT person,” Spradlin said in an interview during a state oversight conference held at a central golf resort in Florida.
Spradlin said federal officials did not provide the county with any information to suggest that its systems were hacked during the 2016 election.
“Nothing happened in 2016,” Spradlin said.
St. Lucy – like other counties – has received a warning about phishing emails designed to mimic those from a voter registration system provider, he said.
“All we knew was the whole thing about these phishing emails,” Spradlin said. Any talk of Russians breaking into St. Lucy’s voter registration systems “would be news to me,” he said in 2019.
Walker stood next to Spradlin, answering questions about the Russians.
Walker, a Democrat, could not be immediately contacted for comment late Thursday.
Civil servants received the news with shock.
“It’s very, very, very worrying to me that this happened in St. Lucy County, especially entering this controversial election season,” said State Senator Gail Harel, who represents much of St. Lucy County. “I will certainly contact Gertrude Walker to hear directly from her about what she has done to make sure our constituency infrastructure in the county is safe.”
CNN, citing a preliminary copy of Woodward’s book, said it identified St. Lucy and Washington counties as the two Florida jurisdictions successfully violated by the Russians.
Washington County, with a population of about 25,000, is in the middle of Panhandle. In 2016, Trump received 77 percent of the more than 11,000 votes cast in the county.
Trump won St. Lucy in 2016 with less than 50 percent of nearly 141,000 votes cast. Former President Barack Obama won the county four years earlier.
Representative Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) Said the details revealed in Woodward’s book show why local and government officials should be notified when electoral systems are violated.
“These reports continue to demonstrate how unreasonably voters are keeping our government in the dark about interfering in elections and how this confusion only serves to destabilize confidence in our democracy,” Murphy said in a written statement. “We cannot oppose outside interference if voters are unaware of potential intrusions and cannot take steps to verify the integrity of their voting information.”
Republican Brian Mast, a Republican, reiterated his call for declassification and asked Walker for a report on all the internal changes she has made.
“At least a year ago, I and most members of the Florida delegation asked for information to be declassified,” he said. “It hasn’t happened yet that I can’t talk about what I know from secret briefings.”
Matt Dixon and Mark Caputo contributed to this report.