Some GOP lawmakers are questioning a new round of federal election security money after an employee error caused the Minnesota Secretary of State’s online poll finder to link to a partisan liberal website on Super Tuesday.
Republican state lawmakers sharply rebuked Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, for what he called a “lapse in judgment” by an IT worker who linked the state’s overloaded poll finder tool to a BoldProgressives.org web page. The link was active for 17 minutes on Tuesday before the office removed it.
“How can an employee just redirect and get into IT and do all of this?” said state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a Big Lake Republican and former secretary of state, speaking at a Tuesday hearing in her Senate state government and elections committee. “It’s a very concerning issue, especially in this time of security — and ample money was given already in May of last year.”
Kiffmeyer engaged in a monthslong standoff last year with Simon over $6.6 million in federal election security money approved by Congress. Minnesota law requires the Legislature to sign off on the funding before it reaches Simon’s office.
Congress approved an additional $7.4 million for the office this year, but the state Legislature must still sign off. Simon wants to use that money to expand his new cyber navigator program, offer election security grants for local election workers and boost training for election administrators.
State Sen. Carolyn Laine, DFL-Columbia Heights, pointed to the error as reason to approve the latest round of federal funding to get ahead of any problems in the fall general election. Minnesota voters looking for their poll locations on Tuesday were redirected to an external website because the state’s own poll locator tool was overloaded.
“We need that site not overloaded especially come Election Day in the fall,” Laine said during Tuesday’s hearing. “We need to take care of this now.”
Simon’s office had an emergency plan to link to a Google-based nonpartisan poll finder in the event of a service disruption affecting its own web tool.
In response to Tuesday’s problem, Simon said all external websites where voters are redirected must be part of an approved “whitelist” of sites. At least two staffers now must sign off on any outside source where voters are directed for polling information.
Simon was scheduled to testify Wednesday before the Senate’s judiciary and public safety panel, where he was likely to face more questions. In an interview late Tuesday, Simon insisted that “there was zero political motivation” behind the staffer’s error.
“This was purely a mistake,” Simon said. “I have no idea what this person’s politics are and frankly don’t need to know, want to know, or care. This person isn’t a political person at all.”