The security of U.S. elections in 2020 is under the microscope in the wake of Russian interference in 2016, so how come Minnesota is yet to approve federal funding to protect its voting systems?
Maintaining the integrity of Minnesota's 2020 elections is considered to be of paramount importance by DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon, and there is $6.6 million available to the state via The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to do so.
The HAVA allocates federal funding to states for election security, voter registration privacy, accessibility improvements and election training. Minnesota is the only state in the nation that has yet to allocate 2018 HAVA dollars, in part because it is one of the only states that requires the Legislature to approve these funds.
The HAVA funding was initially allocated by Congress in March 2018, but the funds ultimately weren't approved after they ended up in a large omnibus bill last session, which was eventually vetoed by then-Governor Mark Dayton (for other reasons).
The DFL-controlled House passed a bill allocating the full $6.6 million in HAVA funding in February – receiving support from most Republicans in a 105-23 vote – but leadership in the GOP-controlled Senate has been hesitant to do the same.
Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), chair of the Senate state government committee, authored a bill that would allocate around $1.5 million of the HAVA funding. Kiffmeyer said this partial funding would give the Secretary of State’s Office a chance to start allocating these funds to certain areas while working to develop a detailed plan around how to spend the rest of the dollars.
This $1.5 million in HAVA money however hasn't even made it into the Senate’s state government finance omnibus bill, while the House’s omnibus bill includes the full $6.6 million.
Kiffmeyer has publicly criticized the Secretary of State’s plan to appropriate the $6.6 million. She has stated his plan is too broad and does not focus enough on cybersecurity, prompting the Senate to reject full allocation of the funding.
“First of all, it is the duty of the Legislature to thoroughly consider anything that is brought before us,” Kiffmeyer said at a press conference April 25. “For me, I found that in the information we have to date, there was a lot lacking, a lot of questions… Certainly there needed to be a lot more information gathering than these broad open categories."
This 20-point plan, put together by the Secretary of State’s office and a work group comprised of county and city officials, legislators and advocacy groups, was outlined by the Secretary of State in March.
It includes taking steps to modernize voter registration systems, hiring a dedicated expert to assist counties and local governments in Minnesota with election cybersecurity, and providing funding for local authorities to improve their election technology.
Simon urged the Senate to authorize the full $6.6 million at a testimony last week.
“I still remain baffled that the Senate has not included the 2018 HAVA election security funds in its bill,” he said.
Rep. Kristin Bahner (DFL-Maple Grove), vice chair of the House elections subcommittee, said HAVA funding should have bipartisan support, but said she worries the funding has instead become a bargaining tool for larger state government budget issues.
“The primary reason we need these funds is because there is a serious threat to our democracy,” she said in an interview. “In the previous [presidential] election, we were a target by hackers.”
Chair of the House state government committee Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in an interview that it’s critical these funds are released before Minnesota’s presidential primary vote in 2020, meaning the funds must be allocated this session, which ends May 20.