With one exception, Maine’s election system is about as secure as possible

Good morning from Augusta, where — after a briefing from federal homeland security advisers — Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is feeling reassured that Maine’s voting system is about as safe as it could be from malicious outside entities.

Dunlap has long maintained that there is no voter fraud or malfeasance in Maine, but following a classified briefing he had Friday with national intelligence, homeland security and FBI officials, he says Maine’s relatively low-tech voting system is secure. Dunlap said this morning during a radio interview on WGAN that he had to undergo a weeks-long background check just to be admitted to last week’s briefing in Washington, D.C.

Maine’s voting system is isolated from outside influence. Most Mainers mark paper ballots that are then counted in most municipalities by machines, but those machines are not linked to the internet. Tallies are communicated by municipal election clerks directly to the state, and if there are any questions, the ballots are kept as a backup. Dunlap used analogies to drive that point home, such as “it’s not like Star Wars where you have to get into the central core to turn off the shield to the Death Star.”

There is perhaps one vulnerability. Maine’s voter file, which includes information about all registered Maine voters and is stored online, is what voting clerks use to mark residents as having voted. Dunlap said in a worst-case scenario, if that file was corrupted, clerks could simply have voters fill out voter registration cards. That’d be a massive inconvenience but at least the integrity of the election would be preserved. Dunlap said to guard against that, municipal clerks are encouraged to back up their towns’ files regularly.

Dunlap said his visit to Washington allows him to counter misinformation. About two weeks before the November election, Gov. Paul LePage called Maine’s voting system “illegitimate” as part of his argument in favor of requiring voters to be required to show identification at the polls. President Donald Trump has also famously questioned the integrity of U.S. elections. Dunlap said assertions like that from on high, combined with the increasing complexity of ballots in the era of citizen initiatives, make voters stay home.

“People don’t need an awful lot of excuses to sit out,” said Dunlap. “Because we hear those things from someone in authority, we tend to absorb it and believe it.”

This is just one of the battles Dunlap is fighting to maintain confidence in the voting system. Dunlap, a Democrat, was chosen to serve on a voter fraud commission created by Trump but ended up being a thorn in its side. He demanded access to commission data and papers that he argued were being concealed from other members and the public, which eventually led to the commission being dissolved and an ongoing legal battle. Dunlap’s latest volley was filing for a temporary restraining order against the commission turning over its findings to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That case is still pending.

In summation, Dunlap said that voters in Maine should rest easy that the decisions they make in the ballot box are safe in Maine’s current voting system.

“You can’t hack a felt pen,” he said.

Trump book author coming to Portland in April

The author of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” will be at the State Theatre on April 28. The writer, Michael Wolff, announced a speaking tour on Tuesday and it includes a stop in Portland. Tickets to a question-and-answer session start at $40 and will go on sale on Friday. Wolff’s book paints an unflattering portrait of Trump, but it is the best-selling nonfiction book in the U.S. by print and e-book, according to The New York Times. The transparency of Wolff’s sourcing has been criticized and the book makes a host of basic factual errors. Politifact published a guide to that. Here’s your soundtrack.

Fulford submits signatures to get on 2nd District ballot

A Democrat is the first candidate to qualify for the primary ballot in Maine’s crowded 2nd Congressional District race. That’s Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, a builder and former two-time Maine Senate candidate. His campaign said Tuesday that it submitted more than 1,200 signatures to get on the ballot for the Democratic primary in June, making it the first campaign to do so.

Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden of Lewiston, conservationist Lucas St. Clair of Hampden, bookseller Craig Olson of Islesboro and restaurateur Tim Rich of Seal Harbor are also running for the nomination to unseat U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, though Rich has told the Sun Journal that he’ll likely drop out of the race this month.

Today in A-town

The list of daily committee work grows shorter. The House and Senate are out until Thursday but a few committees are working today as they inch closer to finishing their work for the session. The State and Local Government Committee will debate a proposal that’s familiar from recent years: calling for a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Check out the full committee list by clicking here.

Reading list

  • An increasing minimum wage plus anticipated cuts in Medicaid reimbursements are putting a major squeeze on group homes. Medicaid reimbursements for group home operators will fall 10 percent in July and next January, the state’s minimum wage will rise from the current $10 to $11 a hour — after already rising a dollar an hour last year. One Bangor-based agency says it can’t find workers and currently has 72 of its 265 direct-care worker positions vacant. (Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the current minimum wage in Maine.)
  • LePage lashed out at a Supreme Court justice for not retiring. The governor said in a letter made public Tuesday that Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Joseph M. Jabar Sr. promised in 2016 that he’d retire when he reached the 20-year mark in his career in 2017, but Jabar hasn’t. LePage, who wants to appoint a more conservative justice to the bench, wrote that Jabar’s decision shows “a lack of character and an example of dishonesty that is not worthy of a member of the bar.” Jabar hasn’t publicly responded.
  • Another group has sued LePage over his executive order on wind energy. The Maine Renewable Energy Association argues in a complaint filed Friday in Kennebec County Superior Court that LePage’s order last month to halt the issuance of new wind permits in most of Maine was an “unconstitutional executive overreach.” The suit follows a similar complaint filed by the Conservation Law Foundation.
  • The chief of the Maine State Police has announced he’ll take a job with Colby College. Col. Robert Williams, who has been with the agency since 1984, including nearly seven years as chief, will start a new job as chief of security at the Waterville college on March 12. Lt. Col. John Cote will run the state police on an interim basis.

The things we learn over coffee

Fifty-three years ago today, a 6-year-old boy woke and found his father sipping coffee in the living room with a bandage on the side of his head.

“I got shot at Brewer PD,” the man said to the child, taking another sip of coffee. The boy didn’t understand.

“It was like he’d gone out to cover a traffic accident, like it wasn’t a big deal,” that boy told his son years later. The son is Bangor Daily News reporter Nick McCrea. The cop in the shootout was McCrea’s grandfather. The shootout happened around 1 a.m. on a Sunday, in February of 1965. The youngest McCrea has written about it all in a fascinating piece published by the BDN early this morning.

The beautiful part of the story you won’t want to miss is how it ends. The Daily Brief team won’t play spoiler, but today’s soundtrack provides a hint.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.