Minnesota long had a reputation - and the No. 1 ranking to back it up - for political engagement and voter turnout. In 2014, however, we slipped. Our attendance at the polls on Election Day that year tumbled, leaving the state ranked No. 6 in the nation. So, a year later, when he was elected secretary of state, Steve Simon made it a goal to get Minnesota back to the top.
And we did. In the 2016 presidential election, Minnesota ranked first once again in voter turnout.
On Nov. 6, Minnesota voters can flock to the polls one more time - like we always do - to re-elect Simon and his success with voter access, election security, and other secretary of state responsibilities. Put simply, he deserves to be rehired.
"Especially in the Northland, Minnesotans like to vote," Simon said in an interview this fall with the News Tribune Editorial Board. "It has been an honor to be secretary of state for the last almost four years - really, a true privilege. It's important work, and now more than ever it's really ripped from the headlines."
To get more Minnesotans voting, Simon launched a first-of-its-kind "Ballot Bowl." Colleges and universities competed to register students to vote. College Republicans and Democrats on 68 Minnesota campuses actually worked together for a larger good, a huge win in itself.
Simon's office also led a first-ever mock election with Minnesota high schoolers, engaging many of them in politics for the first time. He hoped 100 schools would participate. Nearly 300 signed up, including Denfeld, Marshall, and East high schools in Duluth and at least 11 others across Northeastern Minnesota.
"In terms of participation, I think we have a good thing going," Simon said.
In terms of election security, too. Minnesota wisely has clung to its old-fashioned paper ballots fed into counting machines that aren't connected to the internet. Ballots are tallied at the precinct level under a system of checks and balances that ensures accuracy and integrity and prevents tampering.
In 2016, 11 Minnesotans were convicted for voting illegally, most of them felons trying to vote or register when they weren't legally eligible. Make that a mere 11 - out of 3 million total voters.
"Eleven is 11 too many. I want it to be zero. But to put it in perspective, that's a really good number," said Simon, the DFL incumbent. "We have a good system in Minnesota."
Minnesota was one of 21 states targeted by foreign hackers during the 2016 election. Unlike Illinois and Arizona, though, we weren't breached. Simon and two others from his office have been granted high-level security clearance from the federal government and are regularly briefed on election-security matters.
"You've got to stay a couple steps ahead of the bad guys, and that's hard because the bad guys are smart," Simon said. "This is not the teenager in the basement anymore. These are folks underwritten by people with deep pockets. We've got to be careful."
Simon's Republican opponent on Nov. 6 is John Howe, the former mayor of Red Wing, Minn., as well as a former state senator, prison guard, and district manager for Sears.
"The dark money and the money in politics is ruining politics," Howe said in a separate interview. "That may be a little peripheral to the secretary of state's office, but it is about elections."
Independence Party activist William Denney of Forest Lake, Minn., is also on the ballot.
"It's about person, not party, and (the position of) secretary of state, for me, really honed in on the issues that I really care about, which is election law and government reform," he said.
Simon's record pushes him to the top of this race on duties beyond elections, too.
His office's Safe at Home program is helping protect thousands of Minnesota victims of domestic violence by keeping their home addresses confidential, preventing their abusers from finding them.
His office also handles business filings, which, under Simon, goes well beyond paperwork. Working with an economist at St. Cloud State University and others, his office also produces quarterly business reports tailored to six Minnesota regions. And it annually surveys businesses to offer insights on the state's business community and climate.
"We're the welcome mat for business," Simon said. "This office has to be an island or an oasis of nonpartisanship - not just bipartisanship, nonpartisanship. I take that very seriously."
As seriously as Minnesota voters can take re-electing Simon on Nov. 6 as Minnesota secretary of state.
This News Tribune endorsement editorial was determined entirely by the newspaper's Editorial Board. The board's members are Publisher Neal Ronquist, Editorial Page Editor Chuck Frederick, employee representative Kris Vereecken, citizen representative Julene Boe and citizen representative Denise Wise.