Secretary of State Steve Simon (right) came to Hallock as part of his fourth 87-county tour since taking office. Simon met with Kittson County Administrator Eric Christensen to discuss any issues the county has for the upcoming election and voting. (Enterprise Photo by Margie Holmgren)
By Margie Holmgren
Secretary of State Steve Simon stopped in Hallock on the fourth of his 87-county tour since taking office in 2015.
“Since taking office, Secretary Simon has devoted significant resources toward upgrading the security of our systems and putting new security measures in place,” stated Ben Petok, director of Communications for Simon in an email sent to the newspaper office.
Simon and his executive assistant, Jamie Ebert, stopped July 25 on a two-day trip to visit the Northwest counties of Minnesota.
Simon visited with Kittson County Administra-tor Eric Christensen about voting issues in Kittson County.
During the visit, Christensen informed Simon that Kittson County has two cities left that actually have polling places and both would like to go to a mail ballot. Karlstad is one of the cities with just over 400 voters and Hallock is the other city with approximately 600.
“So the rule in Minnesota is that any township, except metro townships, of any size and any city with 400 or more registered voters has to have a polling place,” explained Simon.
That doesn’t make any sense to Simon who says he hears from cities like those slightly over 400 that would like to go to mail ballot but can’t because of this rule made in the ‘80s. He feels the ceiling should be higher than 400.
The cities would save money by going to mail ballots by not having to find and train election judges as well as pay them for the training time and the time spent on election day.
Currently up to 14 judges are needed to cover the two cities in addition to the 24-28 staff needed to cover the mail in ballots. This year due to new equipment, a central count machine, Christensen stated he is going to use 10 mail ballot judges. He stated if Hallock and Karlstad went to mail as well they could probably utilize 12-14 judges as opposed to the 22-24 they will have this year with those towns having polling places.
Tthe cities pay for their own judges and sets their own rates of pay. The judges that work at the court house with the mail in ballots are compensated at $15 an hour for about 10 hours of work.
“Those of us in the elections world think it should be raised,” Simon commented on the current ruling of over 400 needing a polling place. “It should be higher to at least cover similarly situated cities like Hallock and Karlstad.”
Christensen suggested maybe it could go by the total county voting population or by the percentage of your county already being mail in, allowing the rest of the county to opt in to mail in.
On the election security front, Simon asked about people questioning hacking.
Christensen stated its not a concern since we are not connected to the internet in any way for our elections.
The biggest voting issue for Kittson County would be people voting who for some reason are not allowed to vote. But other than that the county really has no issues with voter fraud.
In 2016, 11 convictions were made for ineligible voting violations. Most of these were felons who did not realize they couldn’t vote and the other was a noncitizen. They were convicted but given probation. The 11 was out of over $3 million voters so a pretty small percentage noted Simon.
Simon also discussed the March 2020 primary for the presidential election. He confirmed the counties are going to be reimbursed for costs.
He is less worried about the polling place fraud and more about the data base being breached. It has happened in some areas, so that is where money is going to be spent to recode the system to keep the publics information more secure.
That’s why he sought an additional $1.5 million from the legislature to ensure that the Secretary of State’s Office has the tools it needs to keep Minnesota’s system secure. The United States Election Assistance Commission allocated nearly $7 million to Minnesota as a result of the federal omnibus appropriation signed into law in March, stated Petok’s email.
Simon feels the design of the system is good at keeping people out and he will continue to ensure the safety of individuals information.
He has taken steps to get a cybersecurity team, hired an outside consultant to test office vulnerabilities, and worked with partners in other agencies (including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) to minimize the chance of any intrusion.
Simon met other election staff, Deb Costin and Lori Sugden, before leaving for Roseau County, the next stop on his two day tour.