SAINT PAUL — Today, Secretary of State Steve Simon praised a new law that will help replace Minnesota’s aging election equipment, calling it a “critical and necessary investment” to ensure voting equipment works properly and consistently in precincts all around the state. Replacing aging equipment has been a major priority of Secretary Simon’s since taking office and was signed into law yesterday.
The bill creates a $7 million grant fund to replace Minnesota’s aging election equipment by 2018. It provides up to a 50 percent match between the state and counties for mandatory equipment and up to a 75 percent match for electronic poll books. The bill was authored by Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell) and Sen. Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) and included in the State Government Finance Bill.
“I have traveled throughout Minnesota and met with local elections officials and the number one issue that always comes up is replacing aging election equipment before it is too late,” said Secretary of State Steve Simon. “This is a critical and necessary investment in Minnesota’s election system, and I applaud the Governor and the legislature for recognizing the importance of this issue. Unlike some responsibilities undertaken by counties and municipalities, administering a statewide election in over 4,000 precincts is not optional. It is required by law and an important part of our democracy, and that is why it has been one of my top priorities. I look forward to working with the legislature in the future as we continue to address this pressing need and ensure voting equipment works properly and consistently in precincts all around the state, and is up to the standards Minnesotans expect.”
It is expected to cost counties and municipalities $28 million to replace all aging equipment and is largely a problem faced by counties in Greater Minnesota. Secretary Simon’s push to replace Minnesota’s aging election equipment has been endorsed by newspapers throughout the state, including the Duluth News Tribune, Mankato Free Press and Albert Lea Tribune. The Duluth News Tribune put it bluntly: “Getting out ahead of this before Minnesota becomes the next ‘Florida in 2000,’ simply put, would be responsible.”
In the aftermath of the 2000 Florida presidential recount and the controversy surrounding state election equipment (i.e. hanging chads), Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002 and provided one-time federal funds to purchase election equipment to all 50 states. That election equipment, which has a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, is aging and needs to be replaced.
A report released by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University in September 2015 revealed that 43 states, including Minnesota, would be using election equipment in 2016 that was at least 10 years old.
While Secretary Simon did not anticipate any issues arising in the 2016 election, he got to work immediately after taking office to address this looming issue. In 2015, he put together a group of city and county leaders, election officials and legislators from across the state to develop solutions to bring to the Legislature. It was determined it will cost $28 million to replace the election equipment counties purchased with HAVA funds.
A PROBLEM FACING ALL 50 STATES
The issue of aging election equipment is a problem facing all 50 states. For example, New Mexico, a state with less than half the population of Minnesota, spent $12 million to purchase new equipment in 2014. In late 2014, Maryland estimated the cost to replace the state’s tabulators would be approximately $28 million and the state approved $14 million assist local governments in offsetting the cost to replace equipment. And Michigan’s State Administrative Board recently approved $82.1 million in spending over the next 10 years to replace and support new voting equipment in the state, with the state covering about $40 million of the overall cost.