MIAMI -- Ever since a leaked classified intelligence document revealed that Russian hackers had tried to access Florida's elections networks in 2016 by crafting malware-laced emails made to look like they came from a software vendor, reporters all over the country have been searching for electronic correspondence sent three years ago to the state's 67 elections offices.
But could emails crafted by the elections offices themselves hold the clue to determining which two jurisdictions were hacked?
This week, in response to hacking questions sent to every supervisor of elections in the state by the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, two offices issued the same legalistic non-denial. Almost word-for-word, they gave the same response when asked if their voter registration networks were hacked in 2016, explaining that they could not answer questions because to do so could "directly or indirectly" help determine the answer -- which has been deemed classified by the FBI.
It now turns out that at least one of those two offices was, in fact, hacked.
Citing anonymous sources, The Washington Post and Politico reported Thursday that hackers gained access in 2016 to the voter registration database in Washington County, a Panhandle jurisdiction of about 16,000 registered voters. But the identity of the second hacked supervisors' office remains a mystery, since the FBI won't say which counties were hacked and Florida's governor and members of Congress were sworn to secrecy.
Meanwhile, though the FBI has stressed that no data was manipulated by the hackers, there isn't a single one of Florida's 67 supervisor of elections that has admitted to being hacked.
But email responses to hacking questions from elections supervisors in Washington and Sumter counties might be clues. Both offices issued jargon-filled non-denials to the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times that were nearly identical, save for pronouns and a single sentence. Neither responded to follow-up questions.
Here's how Washington County Supervisor of Elections Carol Rudd responded early Thursday afternoon to the question of whether her office was hacked:
"As your request relates to potential communications between my office and various federal agencies, including DHS and FBI, and because my answers could either directly or indirectly allow yourself or others, including nation states trying to do harm to our elections process, to ascertain details harmful to national security, I will exercise the protections offered under FOIA and CISA of 2015 in regards to your request," Rudd wrote.
She continued: "I hope you understand that while I am a public official entrusted with and committed to maintaining and promoting fair, accurate, and transparent elections, I am also entrusted with maintaining the security of elections. I take this trust very seriously."