Mesabi Daily News: Simon Says State Needs To Help Upgrade Machines
By Jerry Burnes, 2/6/17
VIRGINIA — Minnesota’s voting equipment is aging out, and without legislative help, the burden of about $28 million in replacement costs will fall squarely on cities and counties.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon met Monday with the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools to drum up support for a state-funded solution to voting infrastructure now more than a decade old. He’s not asking for the Legislature to foot the bill for the entire cost, rather follow Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal calling for a 50-50 split between the state and local governments.
Covering half the cost — about $14 million — would keep the state on pace with efforts in Maryland and Michigan.
“We think local government should have some skin in the game,” Simon said during an interview at the Mesabi Daily News.
After a disastrous election in 2000, marred by hanging chads in Florida and a presidential recount in the state between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002.
HAVA provided one-time federal funds to purchase election equipment for all 50 states. More than a decade later, that equipment is nearing the end of its lifespan, and Congress isn’t backing another round of spending.
Cities and counties are now on the hook to buy new voting equipment, which at about $10,000 per polling place, puts a squeeze on greater Minnesota. Simon said larger counties like Hennepin and Ramsey already started replacing machines, but rural counties are going to struggle.
He isn’t describing the need as a crisis — yet — “but wait until 2018 or 2020, and you’re flirting with real bad outcomes.”
“We don’t want a repeat of Florida in 2000,” Simon said. “This is expensive stuff … we have to make sure the system is in good shape.”
Minnesota’s voting system for the past decade, according to turnout numbers, is among the nation’s best. Nine of the last 10 years the state has boasted the top voter turnout in the U.S., falling to sixth in 2014 but regaining the top spot in November.
Simon cites the state’s cultural view that elections matter and easy-to-meet voting laws that include same-day registration, online registration and no-excuse absentee voting.
Simon authored the no-excuse absentee balloting bill as a state legislator, and said the absentee turnout in 2016 was unlike any other year. In past elections, the state would receive up to 10 percent in absentee voters, but jumped to 23 percent in 2016.
“We have a good thing going in Minnesota,” he said.