2018-04-16 / Maine

Maine getting $3.3 million in federal election security funding

BY SCOTT THISTLE
Portland Press Herald

AUGUSTA

Maine will be eligible for up to $3.3 million in federal funds to help increase election security, but it’s unclear how the money will be used in a state that is already regarded as relatively secure because of the nature of its voting system.

Kristen Muszynski, a spokeswoman for Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, the state’s top election official, said Dunlap’s office had not yet determined how the funding would be used but was aware of the new resources.

“We look forward to determining how best to use this funding toward our goals of improving federal elections administration in Maine,” Muszynski wrote in an email.

The funding was announced last week by Maine Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, both of whom sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee delved into the issue of election security following evidence of attempted tampering of U.S. voting systems by Russian operatives in 2016.

The funding for Maine is the state’s share of the $380 million 2018 Help America Vote Act Election Security Grant Program and is a part of the federal funding bill for 2018.

“While our investigation is still ongoing, we know for certain that the Russians were relentless in their efforts to meddle in the 2016 elections, and that those efforts are continuing,” King and Collins said in a joint statement. “We are delighted that Maine will receive this investment of more than $3.2 million to help strengthen the integrity of our elections. This federal funding will provide states across the country with the support and resources needed to update voting technology and protect voter registration files.”

Dunlap has previously touted Maine’s election system and its security, noting that the Legislature over the years has intentionally kept Maine’s voting machines relatively low-tech.

He has said Maine’s voting systems are nearly invulnerable to cyberattack because of their relatively primitive mechanical technology, using paper ballots and counting machines that are never connected to the internet or one another. “You really can’t get a hell of a lot more secure than that,” Dunlap has said.

In February Dunlap took part in a classified briefing on election security presented by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, and the federal Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C. Following the briefing Dunlap said he did not learn anything new that prompted any new concerns about Maine’s systems.

Based on the rules of the new federal grant program, announced by King and Collins, Maine would have to apply to receive the federal grant money but could incur debt under the program for preapproved purposes.

Under the rules for the program, the federal funds could be used to:

• Replace voting equipment that only records a voter’s intent electronically with equipment that utilizes a voter-verified paper record.

• Implement a post-election audit system that provides a high level of confidence in the accuracy of the final vote tally.

• Upgrade election-related computer systems to address cyber vulnerabilities identified through Department of Homeland Security or similar scans or assessments of existing election systems.

• Facilitate cybersecurity training for the state chief election official’s office and local election officials.

Muszynski, the spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the process to draw down the federal money would not be completed in time for Maine to use the funding to help it conduct the first-in-the-nation ranked-choice statewide primary elections in June, an issue that is currently under consideration before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at (207) 713-6720 or sthistle@pressherald.com.

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