Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap says voters should be confident that Maine’s election will be secure, largely because the state doesn’t store or transmit voter or election data on the internet.

Dunlap addressed security issues in a recent video and in an interview Monday, as concerns about the security of the nation’s voting systems simmer in advance of Tuesday’s midterm elections. Georgia has been a focus of attention because the Republican secretary of state, who is running for governor there, has accused Democrats – without citing evidence – of hacking into the online voter registration system.

In Maine, voters are expected to turn out in near-record numbers for a midterm election, as they select a new governor in a three-way race between Republican Shawn Moody, Democrat Janet Mills and independent Terry Hayes. Voters also will decide a U.S. Senate race among incumbent Sen. Angus King, an independent, and challengers Eric Brakey, a Republican, and Zak Ringelstein, a Democrat.

Also on Tuesday’s ballots are 186 seats in the Maine Legislature, representatives to the U.S. House in both of the state’s congressional districts, four statewide bond issues and a ballot question on a new tax for home care services, as well as numerous county and municipal races and ballot questions.

Dunlap, Maine’s top election official, released a five-minute video Friday explaining how the state’s use of paper ballots protects against the system being compromised by hackers.

“It’s pretty tough to hack a pen,” Dunlap says in the video. “Nobody has figured it out yet. The anchor in the security of our elections today is the use of the paper ballot.”

The ballots completed by Maine voters are scanned by machines in most local polling places – or counted by hand in a few small towns – and the tabulation of votes is captured on proprietary memory devices within the machines. The machines also provide a manual readout from the scanned ballots. Municipal clerks obtain the manual readouts and send them by mail to Dunlap’s office within three days of the election.

Dunlap’s office then has 20 days in which to tabulate the results statewide and certify the tally.

Dunlap said the memory devices that record the tabulation of votes are designed with security in mind.

“These are not the thumb drives that you buy at one of the office supply stores,” he said. “These things are sophisticated, encrypted devices, proprietary technology – I don’t even know how the hell they do it but they are programmed specific to every tabulator.”

Dunlap said he expects 63 to 65 percent voter turnout in Maine, above the 61 percent turnout of that last gubernatorial election in 2014. More than 193,000 Maine voters have requested absentee ballots and about 155,000 have been returned, setting a record for a midterm election.

If a vote has to be retabulated under Maine’s new ranked-choice system, the memory devices from local voting machines, which include images of the original ballots, are brought by courier back to Augusta for retabulation. Ranked-choice voting will be used in the races for U.S. Senate and House if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, but not in the race for the governor’s office or seats in the Legislature.

“We run those tabulations right off the original ballot images,” Dunlap said.

Maine is in a far different position than Georgia, where Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate, has charged Democrats with trying to hack the election system there after it came to light the state’s online voter registration database was vulnerable to outside attacks. Kemp, who is in a tight race with Democrat Stacey Abrams, has offered no proof of wrongdoing but said he’s asked the FBI to investigate potential cyber crimes.

Abrams, a former minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, called Kemp’s allegations a “witch hunt” Monday, The Associated Press reported.

Dunlap pointed out that no voting systems were compromised amid allegations of foreign meddling in 2016, and there was no evidence that any votes were changed by hackers from outside. He said the real thrust of interference was to undermine Americans’ confidence in the integrity of the system.

“Voter confidence is what drives elections,” Dunlap said, “it’s not access, it’s confidence. We have great accessibility laws but that’s not why we are a leader in the country for turnout, we’re a leader in the country for turnout because people believe that their vote counts and that it matters.”

Although Maine’s balloting system is not connected to the internet and is backed up 100 percent by paper records, the state’s central voter registry is “front-facing,” Dunlap said, an electronic system which is protected by a complex series of firewalls.

In the worst-case scenario, were the registry compromised or taken down entirely by a cyber attack, voters still would be able to register at the polls on Election Day and cast a ballot, he said.

“It really wouldn’t impact the election,” Dunlap said of even the worst-case scenario. “Because towns have already printed off their incoming voter lists, they do it five days before the election. That’s the absolute worst-case scenario, you make everybody re-register but we could do it with the paper system that we have.”

Only five states – Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Delaware – have voting systems that do not include a paper ballot or paper trail and instead rely on direct recording electronics or DRE systems with touch-screen interfaces. The vast majority of states use optical digital scanning machines, like the ones used by most Maine municipalities, while several other states use a combination of technologies including touch screens that generate a paper record after a voter casts their ballot, according to an April report to Congress by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Dunlap said that his work on a special commission – now disbanded – that President Trump formed in the wake of the 2016 election to root out voter fraud confirmed that there was no proven fraud.

“No votes were changed in 2016,” Dunlap said. “Outside forces were not attacking elections in 2016, they were attacking the way people thought. That’s pretty clear now, they were trying to influence public opinion.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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