Sen. Nelson: Russian hackers already have 'free rein' over some US voting machines

Voting machines in at least one U.S. state already may have been compromised by Russian operatives ahead of the midterm elections, a Florida Democratic senator warned.

According to a report in the Tampa Bay Times, Sen. Bill Nelson claims the Russians “have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.”

Nelson’s office has yet to respond to a request for comment.

In the Times report, Nelson indicated he and his Republican counterpart, Sen. Marco Rubio, have been asked by leaders of the Intelligence Committee to let election officials in their state know “that the Russians are in their records.”

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., talks on his cell phone at the Kennedy Space Center press building prior to the launch of space shuttle Discovery in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011.(AP)

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday that Russia has penetrated some of his state’s voter registration systems ahead of the 2018 midterms.

“This is no-fooling time,” Nelson added.

Rubio’s office would not comment on the matter, but the Times said two county officials have corroborated Nelson’s remarks.

Nelson and Rubio, who is an Intelligence Committee member, wrote to election officials back in July warning about potential threats to their state’s election apparatus. Nelson and Rubio suggested that 2018 would be a year that demands “greater awareness of cyber threats,” and encouraged state officials to take advantage of the “wide range of services” provided by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to safeguard against such intrusion.

“County election boards should not be expected to stand alone against a hostile foreign government,” Nelson and Rubio argued, noting that “our decentralized system is a strength, but it also means the responsibility resides with each of us to be sure our locality is secure.” 

Nelson told reporters on Wednesday that the Russians are hoping “to sow chaos in our democratic institutions,” a notion that has been repeated by both President Trump and U.S. intelligence officials.

Last week, top cabinet officials doubled down on what they called an ongoing and “pervasive” threat from Russia.

“Democracy itself is in the crosshairs,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

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During the 2016 presidential election, DHS “saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated,” according to cybersecurity official Jeanette Manfra.

She added that there was “no doubt” the Russian government was behind the attacks. 

Manfra’s comments came after former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Fox News in early February that Russia already was attempting to interfere “in the U.S. in 2018.”

“I think it’s important we just continue to say to Russia, ‘Look, you think we don’t see what you’re doing. We do see it, and you need to stop. If you don’t, you’re going to just continue to invite consequences for yourself,’” Tillerson said.