ST. PAUL - State Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-Hopkins) has taken a great interest in election law during his 10 years in the House, and he serves as chairman of the House Elections Committee.
So when Secretary of State Mark Ritchie announced he would not file for re-election, Simon jumped at the chance.
Simon realizes the Secretary of State position is one of those that voters tend to pass over on the ballot, one of those positions that "you don't miss until it's gone."
State Rep. Steve Simon is running for secretary of state on the DFL ticket.
But Simon believes that all political roads, from school bonds and city councils to governor and senate election, "lead to the ballot box, and unless we have free and honest and open and secure elections, we're not going to get far on any of those issues."
"I'm obviously biased because I'm running for the office, but I think it's a terribly important position," Simon said in a telephone interview Thursday.
"In Minnesota's recent history, with Franken-Coleman, Dayton-Emmer, we've had some close ones. So the occupant of this office (Secretary of State) matters, in terms of the process - not so much the outcome, but the process."
The Secretary of State is someone that most voters expect to be "an honest broker," someone who focuses on fairness and inclusiveness for voters in elections, not on who is ahead. Simon thinks his experience as chair of the House Elections Committee serves him well in that regard.
"Both Gov. Pawlenty and Gov. Dayton have said they would not sign an election bill into law unless it had bipartisan support. Gov. Dayton has taken it further, saying he wouldn't sign something unless it had broad bipartisan support."
So Simon said he has had to work to bring both parties on board to support election law reforms.
One law he takes credit for is the "No Excuses" Absentee Ballot law that has taken effect this year. It allows people to mail in their votes ahead of time without having to take an oath that they will be out of town on election day, a requirement in the old system. It led, Simon said, to "a lot of white lies" on election day.
"My dad is disabled; he can't get around very well. Why should he have to sign an oath saying he'll be out of town in order to vote from his kitchen table?" Simon said.
Simon sees technology coming into play in future elections. He doesn't see online voting coming anytime soon, but online voter registration is something that is possible in the near future.
Simon also said the day may not be far when "electronic poll books," or electronic tablets or computers loaded with people's drivers license or picture ID photos can be placed at every precinct polling place. The books would provide the photo ID assurance that some are seeking, without forcing people to produce the ID card. Those who have no ID cards, and about eight or nine percent of the voting population doesn't, could have their photos taken at the polling place, entering it immediately into the election books around the state.
Simon said he traces his interest in election law to his family's experience. His ancestors came from Poland and Lithuania, places where they were treated badly, where they had no vote, and no chance to decide on how they were governed.
"They came here, to America, and got those things. I think that's worth remembering, and worth doing well. The ballot box really does matter," Simon said.