What if Minnesota could lay its hands on $6.6 million to update its voting system, making it impervious to hacks by Russian troublemakers or anyone else? What if instead of putting that money to work immediately, it just let the money sit there, untouchable, as the midterms and next presidential election drew ever nearer?
If that sounds ridiculous, it should. And yet this badly needed funding, already secured as part of a national effort to update voting systems and signed into law by President Donald Trump, is unavailable because the Minnesota Legislature may not act on it in time for the 2018 elections.
In this state, the Legislature must authorize use of the funds, even though they come directly from the federal government. Lawmakers could easily have consented early in the session. Had that been the case, the secretary of state’s office would already be working on updates. Instead, like most everything else this session, the authorization has been lumped into a giant and controversial spending bill that might draw a gubernatorial veto as the 2018 session draws to a close.
That is a risky tactic with any number of the spending provisions in the megabill. But if this reckless move takes down the authorization, this state will be jeopardizing the security of its election system in a year when Minnesota faces an exceptionally packed, high-stakes ballot featuring races for governor, two U.S. Senate seats, several nationally tracked congressional contests and the Minnesota House all in the mix.
And the threat is real. Minnesota was among 21 states targeted by hackers who acted on behalf of the Russian government during the 2016 election. States across the country will be using their shares of the Help America Vote Act funding to make their own improvements. The further behind Minnesota is, the more tempting a target this state will become.
Whatever else happens with the spending bill, the simple pass-through language required of the Legislature has no place in it. Wise legislators could easily amend authorization into a technical elections bill that could insure Minnesota’s ability to begin badly needed updates to its elections system now — not a year from now.
“If we don’t get it done this year, we will have millions of dollars in cybersecurity funding that can’t be touched, even though Congress and the president have already given the OK,” Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon told an editorial writer.
Legislators who fail to ensure that Minnesota is able to take full advantage of an opportunity to shore up its voting systems at little cost to taxpayers will have a lot of explaining to do. The Legislature should take speedy action to send the authorization to the governor before it’s too late.