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FILE PHOTO - Poll workers and voters stand by the voting machines at the Marion 2 precinct at the Marion Opera House during the U.S. presidential election in Marion, South Carolina, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill

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By Christopher Bing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. state election officials are demanding better access to sometimes classified federal government information about hacking threats to voting systems.

With less than three months until the November midterm elections, 44 states, the District of Columbia, and numerous counties on Wednesday participated in a simulation that tested the ability of state and federal officials to work together to stop data breaches, disinformation and other voting-related security issues.

They did not simulate a cyber attack, but rather played out various scenarios to learn how to react if there were one. The Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, U.S. Cyber Command, Justice Department and the FBI participated.

Matthew Masterson, a DHS senior advisor, told Reuters it will be important to help election officials before November elections understand "how information goes from a classified structure to declassified and out to the states."

Part of solving that problem is getting security clearances for state election officials. “The fact that we have state officials with clearances and the ability to share classified information is critical," he said, "but our goal is to get out as much information as possible and to share it as broadly as we can. So we’re working through that.”

Some election officials received top secret clearances since December 2016 to view classified material but a gap still exists. In some cases during Wednesday's simulations, mock one-day clearances were granted to officials.

California's secretary of state, Alex Padilla, whose security clearance has not yet been authorized, said, the biggest barrier to better communications and information sharing still happens to be “funding" and "red tape."

"The challenge seems to be as federal officials see something how quickly can they say something," he said.

"The real test will be in the event something happens between now and election day in November.”

In February, following a classified briefing between state and federal government officials, multiple secretaries of state said they were disappointed in the quality of information being provided to them about cyber threats coming from Russia.

(Reporting by Christopher Kahn; Editing by Damon Darlin)

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Reuters