Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon made a stop in Montevideo last Friday to visit with interim Auditor/Treasurer Michelle May and Senior Deputy Auditor/Treasurer Molly Barborek. The purpose of the visit was to discuss how recent elections have gone in Chippewa County, as well as discuss the county’s preparedness for upcoming elections.

 

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon made a stop in Montevideo last Friday to visit with interim Auditor/Treasurer Michelle May and Senior Deputy Auditor/Treasurer Molly Barborek. The purpose of the visit was to discuss how recent elections have gone in Chippewa County, as well as discuss the county’s preparedness for upcoming elections.

Simon started the meeting off by asking May how the 2016 election went. May said: “It was pretty good. It was our first year using the DS200 voting tabulators, and everything went well.”

May also spoke about the recent special election to decide whether or not to make the Auditor/Treasurer and County Recorder positions appointed positions. “We were able to begin the process of opening ballots a week ahead of time, and that was really nice. On election night we just had to run the last few ballots and tally everything up. It seemed like it went really smooth,” said May.

Sec. Simon then spoke about how, for the second election cycle in a row, absentee voting was up, and he credit the “No Excuses Absentee” voting law. “People have really taken to this. The typical percentage of absentee voting before the law went into effect was 8 or 9 percent. In 2016, we had nearly 20 percent before election day. If this trend continues, it will eventually change how campaigns are run,” he said.

Simon then asked May and Barborek if there were any issues about voting equipment. May responded: “We haven’t signed any contracts with equipment vendors yet. We are looking at getting poll books for pretty much all of our precincts, as well as for any registrations that come through our office. We are also looking at upgrading the DS200s and replacing older equipment.”

Cyber security for future elections is not only a national issue, but a state issue as well. Sec. Simon said: “As you can imagine, our office receives a lot of questions about cyber security from the media and others. I’ve been very candid in saying that I think it is the number one election integrity challenge for the country and for the state. The threat is real, and it is something we are keeping our eyes on.”

A little over a year ago, the Department of Homeland Security declared that election systems are critical infrastructure which needs to be protected. “DHS has been to our office several times to offer suggestions on how to protect and improve our systems,” said Simon.

Simon then asked May if anyone has been asking about the integrity of the local election system. May said, “I haven’t heard any concerns. One of the topics we have been discussing has been deciding if we’re going to run our poll books connected to the internet, and wondering what level of internet security is out there in order to securely use that compatibility.”

May has been in contact with other towns within the county to learn what types of protections they have in place for polling sites. “Most of them have said they have password protected WiFi which we would be able to utilize,” she said.

Simon expressed his relief that people in the county aren’t overly concerned or so concerned about cyber security issues that they would consider not voting in upcoming elections. “I try to strike a balance between sounding the alarm and being an alarmist,” he said. “What all the intelligence people in Washington tell us, and all of the other secretaries of state, is count on more cyber attacks to happen,” he continued.

To drive his point home, Simon said: “Minnesota was one of 21 states that were targeted by elements that were associated with the Russian government. They didn’t get into our systems, but in two of those other states, Illinois and Arizona, they did.”

That is why Minnesota is taking the steps to minimize the risks of a cyber security attack. “We’re always trying to think ahead and take advantage of the services Homeland Security provides to us,” said Sec. Simon.

With the upcoming 2018 mid-term and 2020 presidential elections looming on the horizon, cyber security will plan an ever increasing role. May said: “It will be an interesting year. We’re doing more of the online election judge training. They did that for the last election and that went really well so we will utilize that again.”

“We are in good shape in Minnesota,” said Simon. “The design of our system is very good. We are still a pen and paper state, unlike 16 to 18 other states who have gone to touch screen voting which has no paper trail or receipts whatsoever.”

Another advantage Minnesota has over other states is same day voter registration. “If everything went wrong, let’s say someone went in and deleted every single voter registration, we still have same day voter registration. It would be messy, but we could still hold the election. We are one of only 15 or 16 states that have this. Most don’t.”

Simon concluded the meeting by saying: “Most people acknowledge now how big the cyber security threat is. You look at what the intelligence people are saying, what they are telling us to expect. It is the number one threat to our elections.”

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