By Rielle Creighton

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – With the 2020 primaries and presidential election on the horizon, security is at the forefront for election supervisors across the country.

It was recently revealed that just weeks before election day in 2016, Palm Beach County’s election office was hit with a ransomware attack and officials didn’t know about it for years.

“I was shocked. I didn’t know anything about it,” said Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link.

In November 2019, Link said she found out her office was hit with ransomware three years earlier.

“It was after our IT director left suddenly which was in November,” said Link.

Link said that IT director, Jeffrey Darter, was fired amidst an investigation into alleged child porn possession.

Link said she was working with the new IT director on the upcoming election when the startling information was uncovered.

“I immediately tried to figure out what exactly is it. What was done about it? Is there anything we need to be doing about it now?” she said.

She called the Division of Elections for the state, the FBI, and Homeland Security, none of the agencies knew anything about the attack.

In fact, no one outside of her office knew anything about the virus.

“They were able, as I understand it, they were able to get some of that back through the backup system,” she said.

Link said no ransom was ever paid and the current system is now protected.

“I feel like we’re in very good shape. We will get another report in a few weeks,” she said.

In Miami-Dade, Supervisor of Elections Christina White said in recent years they have hardened their cybersecurity.

“In Miami-Dade, we have no evidence of any sort of breach of any kind, listen I want our voters to be confident that their vote is counted accurately and securely,” she said.

White said they’ve spent more than $1.6 million in county and federal funding to fortify the election systems

“We spend an extraordinary amount of resources in both physical and cybersecurity to make sure that your vote is counted here and accurately and securely, but the best thing I can tell our voters is that we vote on paper, so we have that record of your vote and at the end of the election we can refer back to it,” she said.

Crunch time for the department began Thursday when they sent out 184-thousand ‘vote by mail’ ballots.

“With each passing election we’re breaking records so turnout is probably going to be higher than the last time around,” said White.

She expects they see a turnout of around 20 to 25 percent in Florida’s delegate-rich Democratic primary. There are 16 candidates on the ballot, despite the fact that some of them have already dropped out of the race.

For those planning to cast their ballots this year, here are some important deadlines.

Florida is a closed primary, so voters must have registered with a party affiliation to vote in it.

February 18th is the last day to register to vote or change party affiliation.

Early voting in person begins March 2nd and runs through March 15th

March 7th is the last to request a vote by mail ballot. The ballot must be returned to the elections department before 7 p.m. on election day which is Tuesday, March 17th.

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