SAINT PAUL – Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon today called on the Legislature to release $1.5 million in federal funding for Minnesota’s election cyber security. A federal law passed in March sent approximately $6.6 million to Minnesota’s Secretary of State for election security, so long as the legislature and Governor agree to accept and allocate the federal funds.
“I have tried to sound the alarm without being alarmist,” said Secretary Simon. “I am today again sounding the alarm. We need these funds. The Russians attempted to hack our elections in 2016. We know they will be back in 2018. These federal dollars – not one penny of which adds to the tax burden borne by Minnesotans – are our best chance to further protect Minnesota’s best-in-the-nation elections systems.”
Nearly two months ago, President Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which provided $380 million in Election Security Fund grants to the states, authorized under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. Minnesota’s share of those funds is $6,595,610.
Most secretaries of state throughout the U.S. will enjoy immediate access to these funds. However, unlike virtually all other states, Minnesota law requires the additional step of a legislative allocation of those funds from Minnesota’s HAVA account to the Office of the Secretary of State. Failure to do so by the end of this year’s legislative session would leave the funds sitting in the HAVA account, untapped, which would slow down needed improvements of Minnesota’s election security.
“The key to ensuring democracy in our country is to guarantee the safety and protection of our elections infrastructure,” said Scott County Auditor and Chair of the Minnesota Association of County Officers Legislative Committee, Cindy Geis. “The Minnesota Association of County Officers and the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office have worked collaboratively to uphold and advance the technologies necessary to assure the voters of our great state that attacks on our systems are prevented. The Help America Vote Act provides financial resources to Minnesota to assist in the cost of this protection from and prevention of cyber intrusions. We look to enhance our systems today with the almost seven million dollars that was awarded to our state, and will continue to work as a cohesive unit for other opportunities that will guarantee and uphold the integrity of the elections process.”
The allocation provision is currently embedded in the controversial omnibus spending bill, a measure that Governor Dayton has vowed to veto for many reasons unrelated to cybersecurity funding. As a result, some other legislative path is urgently needed to guarantee access to federal funds. So far, the legislature has declined to take another path for the provision.
“If bi-partisan congressional majorities and President Trump can come together around funds for election cyber defense, surely Minnesota’s elected leaders can do the same,” added Secretary Simon. “The legislature can vote today to send a clean bill to the Governor, which he has said he will sign. Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate support our use of these federal funds. And yet, there’s a very real possibility that this opportunity for cybersecurity improvements could die this year. That would make absolutely no sense. We have a plan to use these funds but need the legislature to act in good faith and send a clean bill to the Governor. Failure to do so is a direct threat to our democracy.”
Secretary of State Simon has been working with local elections administrators across Minnesota so that all Minnesotans have a voice on how we will best protect our elections. This group of nonpartisan election officials understand the dire need for the release of these federal funds. With only days remaining in the 2018 legislative session, Governor Dayton and members of both the Minnesota House and Senate have all agreed on the importance of funding enhanced cyber security for our elections. Rather than allow this piece of legislation to get bogged down in election-year partisanship, Minnesotans expect our leaders to set aside politics for the sake of protecting our democracy.