Steve Simon likes to say that he’s in the “democracy business.”
Business is brisk under Simon’s watch as Minnesota’s secretary of state, with voter turnout among the highest nationwide for nearly every election. For that and other key reasons, Minnesotans should re-elect Simon on Nov. 6.
Of course, some will have already voted before Election Day during the “no-excuses” absentee voting period. That expanded capability to engage in our democracy can be credited in part to a bill sponsored by Simon during his days as a DFL legislator from St. Louis Park. Those efforts have paid off, with 2018 vote totals already far surpassing the pace of the 2014 midterms and even the hotly contested 2016 presidential election.
The expanded access reflects Simon’s belief in bolstering participation in elections, and by extension our collective civic life. It’s an ethos that stands in stark contrast to the disgraceful, antidemocratic attempts to suppress voting through onerous, often racially motivated restrictions enacted in North Dakota, Georgia and several other states this year.
Despite the state’s success, Simon, 48, knows the work isn’t done, particularly when it comes to election security. Minnesota was one of 21 states targeted, but not hacked, by a foreign government in 2016. Keeping Minnesota’s elections safe requires vigilance. And that requires investment. But unfortunately, the dysfunctional finish to the 2018 legislative session held up state approval of $6.6 million in funds to upgrade the security and other aspects of the Statewide Voter Registration System.
The failure wasn’t Simon’s fault, and indeed the relationships he built as a legislator are likely to help build the bipartisan needed to pass rational legislation to better protect what the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has deemed part of the critical infrastructure of our country.
The other business of the office is business itself, and Simon is performing well here, too. Beyond the job of licensing businesses, the secretary of state’s office, in conjunction with St. Cloud State University, has issued a series of quarterly economic reports for six state regions.
Simon’s GOP opponent, John Howe, 55, is running under the banner “Integrity Counts.” Integrity is a virtue Howe has displayed in his public career — as a former mayor of Red Wing, state senator and congressional candidate.
But if “integrity” is meant to question Minnesota’s elections, that’s an unfortunate and unfounded signal to send. In fact, according to Simon, only 11 ballots, out of about 3 million cast in 2016, were found fraudulent. A much bigger issue is expanding voting access, an effort on which Simon has pledged to show continued leadership.
Howe told the Star Tribune Editorial Board that Simon didn’t get the job done regarding the stalled election-security funding. But the failure wasn’t Simon’s. As a former lawmaker who knows the legislative process well, Simon urged his former colleagues not to allow such a crucial infrastructure investment to get caught in partisan paralysis. The fact that they didn’t listen is a discredit to lawmakers, not the secretary of state.
Howe also criticized Simon for the requirement that businesses re-register on an annual basis. But Simon countered that doing so actually provides protection from fraud for firms, and that it’s a requirement in other states, too.
Overall, the case is strong to return Simon to St. Paul to keep the democracy business thriving in Minnesota.