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Federal officials working with Michigan, other states to protect elections from hacking

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Official election websites are being hacked. Disinformation is being spread on social media. Electrical power and communications are going down.

Elections officials from Oregon dealt with these and other scenarios in a tabletop exercise held with federal officials who are working to bolster defenses against interference in the 2020 elections.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency traveled to La Grande, a town in ranching country in northeast Oregon, for the exercise last week with state and county elections officials and technology specialists.

Connecticut held a similar exercise in June.

“There is no longer any question that foreign governments have sought and will continue to seek to interfere in our elections, and cybersecurity has moved to the top of every election official’s priority list,” Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said.

Earlier this summer, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, also hosted the second “Tabletop the Vote” national exercise involving 47 states, other government agencies and private sector election companies.

“Exercises like this play a critical role in election security by bringing everyone together so we can better understand each other’s processes and improve incident response plans,” said Matt Masterson, senior cybersecurity adviser at CISA.

The tabletop exercises also build bonds between technology specialists, county clerks and other election officials, said Oregon Elections Director Stephen Trout. It was only a couple of years that officials here began receiving training in avoiding phishing attempts and strengthening passwords, he said.

Homeland Security officials are also visiting every county in Oregon to check on systems, Trout said. Oregon has a vote-by-mail system, where votes are tallied at county clerk’s offices.

New Jersey’s secretary of state is preparing to hold a similar drill on Sept. 10 in Princeton. This fall, a full day will be dedicated in Oklahoma to election security, including training and briefings from Homeland Security officials and State Election Board staff and contractors. Michigan has a presentation scheduled involving city and township clerks.

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