In this July 8, 2017 file photo, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap speaks during a voter registration meeting at the National Association of Secretaries of State conference in Indianapolis. Credit: Darron Cummings | AP

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is feeling reassured that Maine’s voting system is about as safe as it could be from malicious outside entities following a classified briefing with federal homeland security officials.

Dunlap has long maintained that there is no voter fraud or malfeasance in Maine, but following a classified briefing he had Friday with national intelligence, homeland security and FBI officials, he says Maine’s relatively low-tech voting system is secure. Dunlap said this morning during a radio interview on WGAN that he had to undergo a weeks-long background check just to be admitted to last week’s briefing in Washington, D.C.

Maine’s voting system is isolated from outside influence. Most Mainers mark paper ballots that are then counted in most municipalities by machines, but those machines are not linked to the internet. Tallies are communicated by municipal election clerks directly to the state, and if there are any questions, the ballots are kept as a backup. Dunlap used analogies to drive that point home, such as “it’s not like Star Wars where you have to get into the central core to turn off the shield to the Death Star.”

There is perhaps one vulnerability. Maine’s voter file, which includes information about all registered Maine voters and is stored online, is among other things what voting clerks use to mark residents as having voted. Dunlap said in a worst-case scenario, if that file was corrupted, clerks could simply have voters fill out new voter registration cards. That’d be a massive inconvenience but at least the integrity of the election would be preserved. Dunlap said to guard against that, municipal clerks are encouraged to back up their towns’ files regularly.

Dunlap said his visit to Washington allows him to counter misinformation. About two weeks before the November election, Gov. Paul LePage called Maine’s voting system “illegitimate” as part of his argument in favor of requiring voters to show identification at the polls. President Donald Trump has also famously questioned the integrity of U.S. elections. Dunlap said assertions like that from on high, combined with the increasing complexity of ballots in the era of citizen initiatives, make voters stay home.

“People don’t need an awful lot of excuses to sit out,” said Dunlap. “Because we hear those things from someone in authority, we tend to absorb it and believe it.”

This is just one of the battles Dunlap is fighting to maintain confidence in the voting system. Dunlap, a Democrat, was chosen to serve on a voter fraud commission created by Trump but ended up being a thorn in its side. He demanded access to commission data and papers that he argued were being concealed from other members and the public, which eventually led to the commission being dissolved and an ongoing legal battle. Dunlap’s latest volley was filing for a temporary restraining order against the commission turning over its findings to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That case is still pending.

In summation, Dunlap said that voters in Maine should rest easy that the decisions they make in the ballot box are safe in Maine’s current voting system.

“You can’t hack a felt pen,” he said.

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Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.