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.
Articles about voting issues in Minnesota.
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.
On Monday, the Supreme Court accepted an appeal about the ability of a voter to wear clothing or campaign buttons at a polling place that endorses a political cause. The case of Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky had been before the nine Justices in private conference on five occasions until it was granted a court date. The question under consideration is if a Minnesota law that “broadly bans all political apparel at the polling place, facially overbroad under the First Amendment.” The law, Minnesota Statute Section 211B.11, actually prevents voters from wearing political badges, political buttons, or other “political insignia” at polling places, because the messages communicated are “designed to influence and impact voting” or promote a “group with recognizable political views.” The controversy started when Andrew Cilek of Hennepin County was temporarily stopped from voting because he was wearing a t-shirt with a “Don’t Tread on Me” and a Tea Party slogan, and a button endorsing Voter ID policies from a group called Election Integrity Watch.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear a conservative group’s free speech challenge to a Minnesota law prohibiting voters from wearing T-shirts or other apparel adorned with overtly political messages inside polling stations. A group called the Minnesota Voters Alliance is appealing a lower court’s decision to uphold the law, which forbids political badges, buttons or other insignia inside polling places during primary or general elections. State election officials have interpreted the law as also barring campaign literature and material from groups with political views such as the conservative Tea Party movement or the liberal MoveOn.org. Violators are asked to cover up or remove offending items, but officials are instructed not to bar anyone from voting.
The city of Minneapolis rolled out new technology on Election Day, meant to make the process of voting easier and faster, but some voters encountered a few hiccups. For the first time, the city is using e-poll books which allow election judges to verify voters using iPads instead of bulky paper books. Several voters told WCCO-TV they tried to cast their ballots early Tuesday morning at the Walker Church polling location in Minneapolis, but the iPad used to check voters in was unable to connect to the internet. One voter claims he waited for 20 minutes and had to come back to vote.
With the CIA and the FBI agreeing that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump, many Minnesotans are concerned about protecting the integrity of the state’s election system. They shouldn’t be too worried, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said Tuesday, Aug. 29, during a visit to Detroit Lakes. “My biggest surprise about this job is the time, effort and energy that I and the rest of the staff spend on cyber security issues,” said Simon, who was elected in 2014. He campaigned on running the office with a Joan Growe-style of excellence, and expected to deal with straightforward issues: expanding access to voting, removing barriers to voting, making business services as streamlined as possible.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon stopped in Hubbard County last week as he toured the state talking about the need to replace aging election equipment. Simon was seeking $28 million from the Legislature to help counties pay for the project. In May, a bill was signed into law that created a $7 million grant fund to help replace the aging equipment by 2020. The fund provides up to a 50 percent match between the state and counties for mandatory equipment and up to a 75 percent match for electronic poll books. Grant applications are expected to be made available in September, with an expected submission deadline in mid-December, according to Secretary of State’s office.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon says he’s not sure he’ll turn over the data requested by a White House panel for a study of voter fraud. The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked all states this week to supply publicly-available voter roll information. The request includes voters’ names, addresses, dates of birth, recent voting history and details about military status and felony convictions. Simon, a Democrat, is hesitant.