Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon is increasing pressure on legislators to help his office claim $6.6 million in federal dollars to increase election security.
Minnesota was one of 21 states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers in 2016, but it is the only state to still not access federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funding approved by Congress last year.
After Capitol leaders initially pointed to the measure as a slam-dunk for early passage, it has yet to reach the desk of Democratic Gov. Tim Walz. A proposal in the GOP-controlled Senate would release just a fraction of the money right away, leaving most of the money subject to late-session budget debate.
“This is cause for concern and something I think should inspire all of us to act quickly,” Simon told the Senate’s elections committee.
Simon’s plea comes fresh off a recent visit to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security this month. “We need the full authorization immediately,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he would not commit to allocating the entire $6.6 million immediately, but he agreed to making available the initial amount Simon requested before the 2018 election.
“So it kind of depends on which way we decide, between the two bodies, that we want to go,” Gazelka said. “But we know that those original numbers are important for the state to get, and we’re aware of it.”
The money would be used to update the aging Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS) and for training election officials throughout the state, among other targets.
“Every day that we wait, and every day that we delay, and every day that we don’t have the resources intended for us by Congress is a day ... that we are putting the integrity of our election system and every voter’s vote at risk,” Simon said.
Minnesota is one of several states that require its Legislature to sign off on any federal appropriations, and measures to do so died last year after being tied up in a broad spending package Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed during a standoff with legislators.
Legislation that would make the full funding package available is close to a floor vote in the state House.
Senate Republicans are pushing a more limited plan that would free up roughly $1.5 million of those funds while leaving the rest up for later budget talks.
Pressing for swift action, Simon highlighted past public statements of optimism from leaders in both chambers that the measure would be an early victory.
Gazelka said some Republican legislators wanted to discuss attaching additional election security provisions to any bills concerning the rest of the federal funding.
A spokesman for Walz said the governor has had conversations with both Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, as well as Simon about the importance of the funding.
This week, Hortman said she has talked to Gazelka about finding a way to release all of the money but signaled that a resolution is not imminent.
“We’re not going to wave a magic wand and suddenly everything will be easy,” Hortman said. “There are still differences in the ways the parties approach different issues, and it will still take some time to work things out.”
Simon said last week that his office requested the lower amount last year because it represented projects that could be carried out immediately before the 2018 election. He said he is requesting the full amount now because some items — like hiring additional IT staff to improve the statewide election system — will take several years to carry out.
The state has until 2023 to spend all of the money.