Just days after the nation’s top intelligence officer warned of persistent attempts by Russia to hack American voting infrastructure, the Maine secretary of state’s office confirmed it is seeking federal funds to beef up cybersecurity of the state’s voter registration system.
The secretary of state’s office requested more than $3 million in Help America Vote Act funds late last week but has asked for more time to draft its plan to spend the money. A spokesperson for the agency said that implementing and overseeing the state’s first ranked-choice voting election in June delayed submission of the plan.
The state hopes to use the funds to improve cybersecurity of the state’s central voter registration system while training municipal election officials.
In April, U.S. Sens, Susan Collins and Angus King announced the availability of the money in a joint statement, mentioning Russia’s “relentless” attempts to influence the 2016 elections.
Both senators serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which earlier this month affirmed a determination by the U.S. intelligence community that Russia sought to help President Donald Trump’s campaign defeat Hillary Clinton, an assessment the president refused to endorse during a summit with the Russian president Monday.
On Friday, Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, compared the ongoing threats of Russian cyberattacks to the warnings ahead of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. He also highlighted the indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller of 12 Russian agents charged with hacking the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“The warning lights are blinking red again,” Coats said. “Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”
Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has said Maine’s voting system is considered relatively secure because it is low-tech, relying primarily on paper ballots and counting machines that are not connected to the internet. Additionally, those registering to vote cannot do so online, but in person at their local town clerk’s office.
Kristen Muszynski, a spokesperson for the agency, said clerks electronically transmit the voter registration data to the state’s central database. She said the system is a closed one and password protected, but also that the state has conducted training to help clerks spot phishing scams that could be used by bad actors to breach the system.
According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the newly available funding can be spent on cybersecurity training for the state chief election official office and local election officials.
Maine is eligible for up to $3.3 million, the state’s share of the $380 million 2018 Help America Vote Act Election Security Grant Program and part of the federal funding bill for 2018.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.