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Pioneer Press: Minnesota secretary of state wants to replace aging voting machines

December 14, 2015

"You can't do this job well just sitting in an office in St. Paul."

Secretary Simon just finished traveling to all 87-counties in Minnesota where he spent a great deal of time listening to the concerns of county and local election officials. One issue he heard about from nearly every county, and has been one of his top concerns, is aging election equipment. To address this looming issue, he has 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.

Check out today’s article in the Pioneer Press to learn more about this issue and why Minnesotans must come together sooner rather than later:

Pioneer Press: Minnesota secretary of state wants to replace aging voting machines
By Bill Salisbury, 12/14/15

Minnesota's aging voting machines are wearing out and will soon need to be replaced.

That's the message Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said he heard "loud and clear" from local officials during his recently completed tour of all 87 Minnesota counties.

Most cities, counties and townships use electronic election equipment that is at least 10 years old and getting close to its "10- to 15-year useful lifespan -- and 15 is sort of a stretch," Simon said in a recent interview.

There's a growing risk the voting machines will fail or crash, resulting in lost votes or long lines at polling places.

"I'm hearing loudly and clearly from election administrators and others concerned about elections that this is an issue we need to address sooner rather than later and not wait until it becomes a crisis -- and they need help," Simon said.

Earlier this year, Simon organized a working group made up of city, county and township officials and a bipartisan set of state lawmakers to develop funding ideas to recommend to the 2016 Legislature.

He doesn't expect them to act next year, since it isn't a budget-making year, but he wants to put the issue on lawmakers' radar screens.

"We are not at an absolute crisis point yet, and for 2016 we're not going to get a ton of new equipment," he said. "But as we get into 2018 and certainly by 2020, it's going to start to be a problem.

"I believe the old saying that you have to dig your well before you're thirsty."

The group hasn't settled on recommendations yet, but they have talked about state-local matching grants. Simon noted that Ohio recently purchased electronic poll books for all its polling places with the state picking up 85 percent of the cost and local governments paying 15 percent.

After serving in the Minnesota House of Representatives for 10 years, Simon, a DFLer from Hopkins, was elected secretary of state last year. During his campaign, he pledged to visit all 87 counties during his first year in office, a promise he fulfilled in late November.

"I said when I was running I wanted to be a secretary of state for all Minnesotans," he said. "Part of that is talking to real Minnesotans where they live. You can't do this job well just sitting in an office in St. Paul."

In addition to meeting with local election officials, he talked to business groups about his office's business services, school students about civic engagement and domestic violence prevention advocates about his office's home address confidentiality program.

"I have learned a ton, not just about elections but other things as well," he said.

He now plans to visit all 87 counties every year he's in office.

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