In the spring of 2018, after foreign hackers attempted to disrupt and even alter the outcome of the last presidential election, D.C. stepped up with welcome dollars to strengthen and secure voting systems across the nation. State after state gratefully jumped at the federal dollars and put them to good use.
But not Minnesota. Here, the Legislature politicized the allocation over two legislative sessions before finally accepting the funds. Minnesota was the last state to do so.
With another presidential election now bearing down, the recently enacted federal budget included a fresh round of election-security funding. Millions for every state. And Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, for one, is warning lawmakers here against another “pointless delay” in grabbing and using the money to help secure and safeguard our state’s vote.
“I’m encouraged by the commitment of Congress and the President for another round of election security funding,” Simon said in a statement last week. “It shows that the federal government is taking seriously the threats we face from outside forces who will try to undermine our democracy. Now, it’s time for our state legislature to do the same and commit to releasing these funds as soon as possible. We can’t afford the kind of pointless delay that we experienced with the last round of federal funding.”
The last round of funding totaled $6.6 million for Minnesota. It paid to upgrade hardware and software, modernize and recode the state's 2004-created voter registration system, and hire more people, including a "cyber navigator," among other actions.
In addition, as Simon explained in a meeting in November with the News Tribune Editorial Board, federal Homeland Security and Intelligence agents came to Minnesota to do their best to crack through our state’s voting systems and firewalls and to recommend improvements.
"The good news is we're in good shape. Of course they found some things to work on but nothing critical," Simon said then. "We really feel good going into 2020 about security. Can I sit here and tell you there's a 0% chance that something bad could happen? No, that would be pandering and untrue. ... But I can tell you we're minimizing the risks. And we already had a lot going for us, just naturally, because we're a paper-ballot state. ... Low-tech beats high-tech here."
Minnesota’s allocation this time is $7.39 million, with a required 20% match from the state, or about $1.48 million, according to the secretary of state’s office. As good as Simon may be feeling heading into the Nov. 3 vote, taking additional precautions to protect polling places is simply prudent. With a new round of funding, additional precautions are expected to include security grants to counties and cities to enhance technology and to improve security and accessibility, Simon said.
“With Iran promising ongoing retaliation against the United States that could include cyber warfare, as well as other known intruders with the appetite to disrupt our democracy, we must act with every available resource to harden our systems,” Simon said in last week’s statement. “It is important that state policymakers understand the ongoing need for investment in our election systems, given the landscape of threats we face in 2020 and beyond.”
Minnesota lawmakers return to the state Capitol in less than a month, on Feb. 11. The election is less than nine months after that. Taking necessary precautions to ensure a smooth vote with reliable results can’t be delayed. Not again.