By Jim DeFede

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – There are seven days left in this campaign and more than 62 million Americans have already voted

There have been some concerning stories about foreign interference in the 2020 election.

Voters in Florida, and at least two other states, received a disturbing email supposedly from the notorious group the Proud Boys. The email promised violence against Democrats who vote for Biden.

However, according to the FBI, the Proud Boys didn’t send the email. It came from the Iranians, who along with the Russians have been trying to weaponize voter registration information to sow chaos and undermine confidence in voting.

Facing South Florida host Jim DeFede went one-on-one with Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who oversees Florida’s election, to discuss this serious matter.

DeFede started the interview by playing a clip from Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe’s press conference briefing the public about the threat.

“When did you first become aware that Florida voter registration information had been accessed by either the Iranians or the Russians? And do we know how they obtained it?” DeFede asked her.

“Well, first, it’s important to understand that our systems are secure. What we saw last week were foreign actors who used publicly available information in an effort to mislead and intimidate voters. What Florida voters need to know is that first, our database is secure. They used publicly available information. And second, our ballot is secret. No one will ever know how a voter chooses to vote or who they vote for,” she said. “So we want Floridians to know first off, this is a very serious threat, and we do expect these types of actors to continue trying to interfere by using misinformation and disinformation around our elections. Anything that looks suspicious, a voter should immediately notify their supervisor of elections so that we can work with our law enforcement partners, just as we did here to get to the bottom of it.”

DeFede then asked her when the FBI briefed her and what recommendations were offered to secure voter registration or other types of information in the future.

Lee didn’t give a specific date, saying only that her department works with “federal partners every day, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, to be sure that we have the most up to date intelligence information.”

As for securing voter data, she only said they’ve “worked very hard to be prepared and to bolster and strengthen our elections network” with infrastructure being a key priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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In 2016, before Lee was secretary of state, Russians penetrated the election systems of at least two Florida counties, stealing some information.

DeFede asked Lee what steps have been taken to make sure that intrusions like that will not happen in 2020.

“Back in 2019, Gov. DeSantis directed me to conduct a review of our statewide elections infrastructure. We partnered with all 67 of Florida’s supervisors of elections to conduct a risk assessment review in each of Florida’s counties. And we’ve partnered with them since then to address or mitigate any vulnerabilities that have been found,” she said. “We’ve invested millions in upgrading our election systems, our hardware, software firewalls, and also developed a very extensive and ongoing training program so that anyone who works in the elections community knows to be on the lookout for any type of suspicious activity or attempts to penetrate our networks. We are stronger than we have ever been.”

Seeing as President Donald Trump was in West Palm Beach to early vote, DeFede played a clip of him talking about the security of the voting system in Florida.

“It was very secure vote, much more secure than when you send in a ballot, I can tell you that. Everything was perfect, very strict, right by the rules. When you send in your ballot, could never be like that, could never be secure like that,” he said.

DeFede asked her if the president casting doubt on vote-by-mail security makes her job harder.

“Well, I think it’s important to understand that every state is distinct. And we were fortunate here that voting by mail is something for which we have a lot of experience,” she said. “It’s something that we know how to do well. Our elections, administrators understand it. Our voters and even our postal carriers are accustomed to addressing and being prepared for a high volume of elections mail.”

Jim DeFede

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