Minnesota is joining a six-month election security “policy academy” as part of a nationwide effort to safeguard state voting systems in the aftermath of Russian hacking attempts during the 2016 presidential election.
The National Governors Association picked Minnesota and five other states to work on response plans for attacks on voting systems and to boost communication among state agencies charged with protecting election integrity.
“Minnesotans understand that voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and that risking the integrity of our elections is not an option,” Gov. Tim Walz said Thursday in a statement. “That’s why I’m committed to finding security solutions for any existing and future threats to our elections.”
This week’s announcement comes after Secretary of State Steve Simon won access to more than $6.6 million in federal election security money that had been approved by Congress but was tied up in a bitter partisan squabble at the State Capitol. Simon is expected to hire staff to update the statewide voter registration system and improve cybersecurity. One proposal includes hiring a “cyber navigator” to provide IT services and work with local election officials around the state.
Minnesota was one of 21 states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers as part of what special counsel Robert Mueller described as a “sweeping and systematic” campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to benefit then-candidate Donald Trump. In urging release of the federal security money this year, Simon has repeatedly referred to Department of Homeland Security briefings that warned of further hacking attacks in 2020.
Simon said Thursday he expects the policy academy to “help all Minnesotans develop an appreciation for the very real threats to our election cybersecurity.”
“Investing in democracy is restless work,” Simon said. “Critical to this work is collaboration, partnership and a shared understanding of the threats we face.”
The policy academy is in partnership with the University of Southern California and is funded by the Democracy Fund, a foundation started by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar. Homeland security and public safety officials affiliated with the National Governors Association will work with participating states from now until December. Besides Minnesota, the other states joining the program are Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada and Virginia.