Minnesota looking for new ways to replace old voting equipment
MARSHALL — It’s not an election year, but elections were still an important topic for Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon as he came through southwest Minnesota on Friday. In particular, Simon said, many Minnesota counties and cities are trying to find ways to update their election equipment.
“It’s a real need. It’s very important to have smooth operation of elections,” Simon said. The big question is how to pay for the needed equipment, like ballot-counting machines and voting assistance technology.
Simon visited Marshall on Friday afternoon, as a stop on a statewide tour. While in Marshall, he met with Lyon County Auditor/Treasurer E.J. Moberg to get feedback and talk about election-related issues.
Simon said one of his priorities this year is trying to get help from the state to pay for the replacement of aging election equipment around Minnesota.
Minnesota counties are in a tough position that isn’t their fault, Simon said. Many counties benefited from one-time federal funding to purchase election equipment. The Help America Vote Act, passed in 2002 after the Florida presidential recount, provided funding to all 50 states to buy election equipment. But now that equipment is nearing the end of its lifespan, and the federal funds have dried up.
Replacing the equipment bought with the federal funding would cost $28 million statewide.
Equipment costs are also a problem that hits harder in Greater Minnesota.
“It’s mostly a non-Metro issue,” Simon said. Some counties, like Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka counties, have partly or completely updated their voting equipment, he said. Meanwhile, other counties might not have the financial resources to do so.
Over the past year, Simon has given his support to legislation that could provide funding assistance for counties to replace voting equipment. In March 2016, bills were introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate that would create a $15 million grant fund for election equipment.
Simon said voting equipment updates is a topic that’s gotten bipartisan support from legislators. But that alone may not pave the way for aid funding.
“The question is finding the money,” he said.
With the end of the 2017 legislative session fast approaching, it’s not certain what the outcome will be for election equipment funding. But if the issue isn’t resolved this year, Simon said it will likely be back in 2018.