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King, Bellows speak at election cybersecurity conference

Bellows lauded Maine's layered ballot system, while King warned if workers compromise "one laptop, one desktop... you can be in trouble."

PASADENA, Calif. — Two of Maine's top election experts joined an election security conference Thursday, making plans to protect the process with November on the horizon.

The virtual conference was hosted by the University of Southern California, and is part of a series of regional conferences educating campaigns and the public on how to avoid falling victim to cyber attacks and disinformation. 

Senator Angus King, I-Maine, is co-chair of the Senate Cyberspace Solarium Commission. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows runs Maine's elections. The pair weighed in on efforts to ward off disinformation and interference during the election process.

"Put the fear of the almighty into people because one laptop, one desktop, and you can be in trouble," King smirked as he explained the need to educate all election officials on potential cyber threats.

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"We don’t know what’s coming in this election," King continued. "We don’t know what’s coming in 2024 but, if past history is any guide, trouble will be coming and we have to be ready for it."

We caught up with Bellows earlier in the week, when she was in Baltimore attending another cybersecurity conference.

"In Maine, we have paper ballots — that's the gold standard in election security," she said during a virtual interview on Tuesday. "'Hacktivists' can't hack a paper ballot."

Bellows added that the machines that count our ballots are never connected to the internet, and voter registry data is backed up regularly from a central Augusta hub.

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She's confident the fall election will run smoothly. 

Meanwhile, during the USC conference, Senior US Homeland Security official Kim Wyman told the attendees campaigns and municipalities are facing wider and more pervasive attacks in 2022 than in previous election cycles.

"It's always evolving, always changing," Wyman said. "And we just try to prepare our election officials in ways that they can try to prevent it and detect it if it happens, and then, if it does, having a response plan and a plan to recover."

King and Bellows believe Maine’s systems are ready. Their largest concern appears to be that Maine people need to stay vigilant.

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