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Secretary Simon: Elections Emergency Planning Bill ‘Absolutely Critical’ to Ensuring Minnesota is Prepared

May 21, 2016

New law ensures uniformity of voting experiences across the state in case of emergency

SAINT PAUL — Secretary of State Steve Simon lauded legislation today that will help ensure Minnesota is prepared if a natural disaster or other large scale incident occurs affecting an election — noting that the new law goes “a long way” toward ensuring both local control and uniformity of voting experiences across the state in an emergency. The bill was included in the Elections Omnibus Bill and is now on its way to the Governor’s desk.

The bill — based on recommendations from a task force chaired by Secretary Simon — requires the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State to create a state elections emergency plan, requires counties to develop local emergency plans, and expands the authority of local elections officials in case of an emergency. See below for further details.

“Minnesota is known for having some of the highest voter turnout in the nation, and that’s why it is absolutely critical that we are prepared if a large portion of the state is affected by a disaster,” said Secretary Simon. “The recommendations adopted today go a long way toward providing strong local control during an emergency, while still ensuring uniformity of voting experiences across the state.”

While Minnesota is already well-equipped to deal with issues affecting one or two polling locations, it was determined last year that additional work was needed to ensure Minnesota is prepared for larger scale disruptions, such as Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the 2012 election.

The bill (SF2457 & 2458 [Sieben]/HF2774 & 2775 [Fenton]) adopted recommendations from the Elections Emergency Planning Task Force. The task force met with experts in election administration, emergency preparedness, and emergency response, examining a variety of issues, including potential emergency scenarios and maintaining ballot security. The recommendations of the task force include:

  • The Secretary of State’s Office is required to create a state elections emergency plan. The plan will be created in consultation with Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety, Division of Homeland Security, and Emergency Management.

  • The Secretary of State’s Office is required to develop a model emergency plan and a guide for counties and local jurisdictions to assist in the development of local elections emergency plans.

  • Each county is required to create a local elections emergency plan for use in all elections within the county, in consultation with the cities, towns, and school districts, and file them with the Secretary of State’s Office. Counties will have the option to simply adopt the model emergency plan created by the Secretary of State’s Office or create their own (as long as it addresses the needs of voters with disabilities, ballot security needs, and ensures there is a clear process in place for any polling place relocation).

  • The authority of local election officials is expanded to relocate or consolidate polling locations in case of an emergency, as well as to expand polling place hours in limited circumstances.

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Contact: Ryan Furlong, 651-297-8919, ryan.furlong@state.mn.us

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