Statewide View: Secretary Simon playing dangerous game with election security
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon is actually correct, but deceptive, when he says that Minnesota lags behind other states in doing what is necessary to protect elections. Forty-seven other states have what Minnesota does not: provisional ballots.
In Minnesota, a provisional ballot could be given to a voter who fails an eligibility check. It differs from a regular ballot in that it is placed inside a special envelope and held until the eligibility of the voter is verified, after which the ballot is counted, secretly, along with everyone else's.
While those 47 other states already have strengthened their election systems against the threat of ineligible voters, Simon adamantly opposes doing the same in Minnesota. Instead, the secretary distracts attention from his malfeasance by conducting a media campaign aimed at stopping the Russians.
Election security is now front and center at the Minnesota Legislature, which is debating how to allocate $6.6 million in federal funds for that purpose. Simon is demanding unfettered control over the entire amount to spend as he wishes.
Here is what the Legislature needs to keep in mind while determining how to allocate the federal dollars. One, Simon is an ineligible-voting denier who covers up evidence. Two, he will use the money to expand voting by his political constituency. And three, provisional ballots are needed for restoring the integrity and credibility of our elections.
The evidence for significant amounts of potential ineligible voting is vast, comes from official sources, has been presented to Simon in court, and has never been contested by his office.
For example, the Office of the Legislative Auditor revealed more than 26,000 voters whose status was marked "challenged" in November 2016. Simon has done, as far as I know, nothing to look into any of the 26,000, all of whom failed an eligibility check but were allowed to vote anyway.
During 2018, as many as 15,000 individuals who registered to vote using the last four digits of a Social Security Number could not be found in the Social Security Administration's database. The secretary did not tell the Office of the Legislative Auditor about the existence of Social Security number non-matches when the legislative auditor conducted its audit of the election system. We only know about it because data from the Social Security Administration are available online.
On April 15, a panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed a district court decision and ruled 3-0 that election records in the Statewide Voter Registration System are public data and must be released by Secretary Simon, specifically to the Minnesota Voters Alliance. Yet the secretary refuses to comply. Minimally, Simon should be held accountable for this defiance of all four judges who ordered him to release the data. His cover-up of election records is sufficient basis alone for restricting any budget increase for his office until he follows the law.
Simon's constant refrain about Russian hacking is a complete smokescreen laid bare by facts: The Mueller report describes not one case of a vote being changed anywhere in the country, let alone in Minnesota, by hacking; the secretary has provided no plan for allocating the funds he is demanding; and he has rejected $1.5 million offered to him for strengthening the technical infrastructure that everyone agrees should be upgraded.
Based on his partisan record, it is clear to us that Simon's real goal is to increase the number of Democratic voters. Get-out-the-vote campaigns are plastered throughout heavily Democratic precincts. Likely Democrat constituencies are targeted. Left-wing allies are funded.
Along the way, it seems he will continue to do little to deal with the additional ineligible persons swept up by weakened election processes that increase the amount of registration and voting done where scrutiny is reduced, outside polling places.
The Legislature should not play the game Simon has fabricated, should guard against the dangers he presents to the administration of our elections, and should insist on implementation of provisional ballots in Minnesota so election integrity and credibility can be restored.
Andy Cilek is executive director of the Roseville-based Minnesota Voters Alliance. He wrote this for the News Tribune.