The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a Minnesota law that prohibits people from wearing political clothing or buttons at polling places, calling the ban overly broad but leaving room for the state to impose narrower restrictions. The 7-2 ruling invalidating the particulars of Minnesota’s law left state and county officials who administer elections unsure what’s proper attire and what isn’t for the upcoming August primary and the November general election. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that Minnesota’s law needed clearer parameters for both voters and election officials to avoid confusion and prevent potential violations of First Amendment free-speech rights. Roberts wrote that “the State must be able to articulate some sensible basis for distinguishing what may come in from what must stay out.”
Articles about voting issues in Minnesota.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto of a massive budget bill means Minnesota can’t tap $6 million in federal funds for election cybersecurity until after the November elections. The federal government allocated the money earlier, but the Secretary of State’s office can’t spend it without legislative authorization. That authorization was in the budget bill Dayton vetoed Wednesday.Secretary of State Steve Simon says he repeatedly asked lawmakers to put the language in a non-controversial, stand-alone bill that Dayton would sign. But he says lawmakers chose the “riskiest path” by putting it instead in a bill Dayton repeatedly promised to veto.
Minnesota: Dayton Has Yet To Sign Omnibus Bill That Includes Money for Election Cyber Security | KSTP
The massive omnibus spending bill Gov. Mark Dayton has suggested he may possibly veto includes federal money Minnesota could use for election cybersecurity. President Donald Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 in March. It authorized funding to states for elections under the Help America Vote Act of 2002. But in order for the money to come to Minnesota for cyber security, it must be approved by the legislature and governor. Minnesota’s share of the federal funds is $6,595,610, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
By the narrowest of margins, a bill to return the right to vote for felons faster than would happen otherwise stalled again Thursday at the Capitol. The bill was put on hold following an 8-7 show of hands vote in the House Public Safety and Security Policy Committee, with Rep. Nick Zerwas joining all Democrats on the losing side. Zerwas, R-Elk River, is a bill cosponsor. The proposal could arise later as a potential amendment on the House floor to another bill, but the likelihood of success is slim. A companion measure has previously gotten through the Senate — though not since Republicans took control in 2017 — but the House has typically been the bigger struggle. The bill would change the law so felons would be able to vote once they are no longer incarcerated.
Minnesota: Citing Russian threat, Secretary of State asking for $1.4 million to update voter registration system | Twin Cities Pioneer Press
Citing national security officials’ warnings that Minnesota’s voter database had already been targeted by elements “at the behest of the Russian government,” the secretary of state is asking for funding to update its statewide registration system. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said he’s been in multiple meetings with Department of Homeland Security officials — including a meeting as late as February — relating to foreign attempts to affect the integrity of Minnesota’s voting system. “They are sobering,” Simon said of the meetings, for which he was recently given “secret” security clearance — meaning, he said, he couldn’t give too many details. In 2016, entities associated with the Russian government targeted 21 states, including Minnesota, national security officials have said. Two of those states — Illinois and Arizona — had their state databases penetrated.
In 2010, Andrew Cilek went to his local polling place in Hennepin County, Minnesota, to vote. Cilek was wearing a T-shirt that had three different images on it: the Tea Party logo, the message “Don’t Tread on Me,” and an image of the Gadsden flag, which dates back to the American Revolution but is often associated these days with the Tea Party and libertarianism. Cilek also wore a small button bearing the message “Please I.D. Me,” worn by opponents of voter fraud. An election worker in the polling place told Cilek he would have to cover up or take off the shirt and button. Cilek refused to do so, and later made two more attempts to enter the polling place. On his third try, he was allowed to vote, but an election worker took down his name and address.
State officials are making a concerted effort to revamp Minnesota’s defenses against cyber attacks—a preemptive initiative for the 2018 election season and beyond. Secretary of State Steve Simon made his annual 87-county tour of the state, stopping in Brainerd last week to tout new developments to the state’s cyber security systems. Under his guidance, the state has mobilized a cyber security team, hired consultants to analyze cyber security improvements and partnered with agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to address areas of weakness.
Time to upgrade that aging election equipment: Counties including Becker, Otter Tail, Wadena and Hubbard are taking advantage of $7 million in state matching grant money. It provides up to a 50 percent match for mandatory equipment, such as optical scan precinct counters, optical scan central counters, or assistive voting devices, and up to a 75 percent match for electronic rosters. Becker County asked for, and was granted $71,000 for new equipment. That means the county will have to kick in another $71,000 towards the total purchase price. “We will be using it for voting equipment, we will not be purchasing (electronic) poll books at this time,” said Becker County Auditor-Treasurer Mary Hendrickson.
Minnesota will spend $7 million on new voting equipment in 2018, but the state’s elections chief says cities and counties need a lot more help. Secretary of State Steve Simon announced the $7 million in grant funding for new election equipment that was the result of bipartisan legislation approved in 2017. The grants cover half the cost of mandatory equipment, like ballot counters, and 75 percent of the cost of electronic voter rosters.
Minnesota has a dress code for voting. The idea, the state says, is to create a safe space for democracy. To make sure voters are in a properly contemplative mood at their polling places on Election Day, the state bans T-shirts, hats and buttons that express even general political views, like support for gun rights or labor unions. The goal, state officials have said, is “an orderly and controlled environment without confusion, interference or distraction.” Critics say the law violates the principle at the core of the First Amendment: that the government may not censor speech about politics. They add that voters can be trusted to vote sensibly even after glancing at a political message. “A T-shirt will not destroy democracy,” a group challenging the law told the Supreme Court this month.