Maine’s top elections official received an unprecedented classified briefing on election security Friday from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, and the federal Department of Homeland Security in Washington.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and the other nine officers of the National Association of Secretaries of State received the briefing during that group’s winter meeting. Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen M. Nielsen also met with the group.

Reached by telephone Tuesday afternoon, Dunlap characterized the briefing as an important turnaround in communications and cooperation between the federal agencies charged with monitoring external threats to the nation’s electoral infrastructure and the state officials who actually administer elections.

“Whatever I can’t tell you about the classified briefing, I think the important thing is that we had a classified briefing,” said Dunlap, who had to get a security clearance and be fingerprinted for the first time in his life to attend the meeting. “We’ve complained for years that Homeland Security and these intelligence agencies are kind of out there and we don’t know what they’re doing on election issues – and they actually run exactly zero elections each year.

“They are actually talking to us now and that line of communication is really important,” he added. “Now we know what they are looking at and what their processes are, and that’s a very different situation in terms of interagency and state-federal cooperation.”

Dunlap has repeatedly said that Maine’s voting systems are nearly invulnerable to cyberattack because they have been intentionally kept low-tech, 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,” he noted, adding that nothing he heard from his briefing led him to have any fresh concerns about Maine’s systems.

“The very thoughtful way in which our Legislature has approached elections for the past couple of generations has minimized technology in the process, and has made us a best-practice state,” he said.

In a written statement, Secretary Nielsen said she met with the group to discuss cyber security for the nation’s infrastructure. “The first primaries of the 2018 midterm cycle are just around the corner,” she said. “I thanked them for their partnership and pledged the Department will continue its support to state and local election officials, primarily through sharing timely and actionable threat information and offering cyber security services.”

Dunlap serves as one of two at large members of the executive board of the secretaries of state association and has previously served as the organization’s treasurer and secretary. The current president is Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson.

Dunlap also served on President Trump’s controversial election fraud commission, which the White House disbanded after Dunlap filed a lawsuit to obtain basic working papers and scheduling information he said was being withheld from him and other Democrats serving on the body. He is still trying to obtain the documents, which the White House claims he is no longer entitled to because the commission no longer exists.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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