November 12, 2019
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Maine election officials remain confident that the state’s voting system is safe from hackers

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
A ballot box is seen during the vote tabulation process for Maine's 2nd Congressional District election in Augusta, Nov. 12, 2018.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A U.S. Senate report released last week concluded that election systems in all 50 states were likely targeted by Russia ahead of the 2016 election, but a Maine official said the state isn’t among 21 where specific infiltration attempts were documented.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has said a largely analog voting system and liberal voting laws reduce Maine’s vulnerability, and his office plans to spend $3.3 million in federal and state money to upgrade election infrastructure. Maine is also set to study post-election audits, which are done to some degree in all but 16 states.

The most notable attempt described in the report — released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday — was in Illinois, where Russian military hackers penetrated the voter database in 2016 and could have deleted or changed registration data, but apparently didn’t.

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The U.S. government initially identified 21 states where “scanning activity” was detected and notified officials in those states. None but Illinois are named in the report, which no pattern was detected in the targeted states. That finding and intelligence received in 2018 led the U.S. to conclude that all 50 states were targeted.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, who oversees Maine elections, said while all states have been discussing election security issues with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Maine officials were never notified of a specific hacking attempt here.

She suspected that attempts could have included accessing the login pages of the voter database and ever-increasing amounts of attempts at “phishing” — where fraudulent actors try to get sensitive information by disguising themselves as a trustworthy entity — by email.

“They’re just looking for the suckers. Most of it is just trying to make sure we’re not one of the suckers,” Flynn said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to just be vigilant.”

The only online component of Maine’s election system is the central voter registration system. It is updated by local clerks and is password-protected, firewalled, backed up and monitored for suspicious activity. Maine — like most states — uses paper ballots.

Maine is also one of 17 states with same-day voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That partially tamps down the threat of hacking, because voters could re-register at polling places if their information was deleted from the central database.

Dunlap’s office was awarded $3.1 million under a 2018 federal election security law. It was matched by $157,000 in state funds and will pay for voter database upgrades, implementing an automatic voter registration law passed by the Democratic-led Legislature this year, expanding the use of electronic vote tabulators to cities and towns with more than 500 voters and making cybersecurity and ballot security upgrades.

Maine is in the minority of states that doesn’t have post-election audits, in which a random sample of ballots are counted to ensure counts were correct. Flynn has argued they’re unnecessary, but the Legislature passed a bill this year having her office study them by 2023.

 



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