Simon says Senate holding up federal cybersecurity funds

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Brown County Auditor/Treasurer Jean Prochniak, left, and Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon discuss election and legislative issues during Simon’s visit Monday. Simon visits all 87 counties each year since he took office in 2015.

NEW ULM — Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon vigorously discussed two legislative issues his office is battling to protect Monday.

During a visit with Brown County Auditor/Treasurer Jean Prochniak, Simon said He voter privacy and ensure election cybersecurity are two huge issues.

Simon said the Minnesota Legislature has not yet agreed to release $6.6 million in federal election cybersecurity funds appropriated last year by President Trump and the U.S. Congress, making Minnesota the only state in the country unable to access its share of Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funding.

“I’m really disappointed this funding is held up in the Minnesota Senate.” Simon said. “That is a serious problem. It’s being held up for all the wrong reasons. It’s a dangerous game.”

Simon said he spent most of last year creating a working group of legislators and staff, IT experts, township, city and county experts, holding many meetings over many months, creating a plan on how to upgrade system security, and put new security measures in place.

He worked with other agency partners including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to minimize the chance of any intrusion.

Simon said the Minnesota House approved accepting the funding in a broad, bi-partisan manner, but the Minnesota Senate said his office would get only a little bit more than 20 percent of the money.

“Now the House and Senate are deadlocked,” according to Simon. “The Senate has not really articulated why we can’t get all the money. This hasn’t event gotten a Senate hearing. They’re being coy about it. It affects everyone in Minnesota. We agree the money should be split into local, sub-grants. I’m deeply disappointed about it.”

Simon called the funding delay “artificial.”

“The defense of our democracy is at stake. The time for game playing is over,” he said.

His 20-point plan includes cybersecurity training for counties and cities plus automatic behavior analysis, network segmentation and security information and event management, also recommended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In addition, many other security measures.

Simon said legislative action is also required to curtail the high cost of a Presidential Primary to local governments.

“There is no good reason to require public disclosure of voters party preferences,” Simon said. “The legislature can fix this and reduce the cost of the primary nomination contest for local taxpayers.”

The Presidential Primary Law, passed by the legislature in close coordination with the national Republican and Democratic parties in 2016, requires separate ballots for each political party and that all voters disclose to election officials the party ballot that they choose, and makes that data public record.

Simon said the law does not account for all the added costs to local and municipal taxpayers to fund a third, statewide contest in a single-calendar year. Traditionally, the cost of Presidential caucuses was borne by individual political parties.

The new law requires local governments to operate polling places in the same manner as traditional primary and general election contests, provides for reimbursement for some of the expenses, but fails to account for all the administration costs.

Simon said one solution for the privacy and cost issues of the 2020 Presidential Nomination Primary is to conduct it through mail balloting. Supported by counties and municipalities every registered voter would receive a ballot in the mail.

“Vote by mail could save millions of dollars in election administration costs, would allow voters to choose their party preference in the privacy of their home and has been shown to increase voter participation,” Simon said.

Prochniak said she loved mail ballots and poll pads because they speed up the amount of time needed to do election work.

Simon said more and more voters are doing mail ballots and that it tends to increase voter participation.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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