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More federal dollars await to secure MN's elections systems — if lawmakers say OK

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Minnesota’s election infrastructure remains at risk, Secretary of State Steve Simon told a House panel Friday.

He was there to support HF3499, sponsored by Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park), legislation that would appropriate $7.4 million in federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds allocated to the state in order to improve election security.

In almost all other states, money flows directly to state elections officials, but in Minnesota, state statute requires funds first be specifically appropriated by the Legislature.

Congress made the funding available in December 2019, the second round of HAVA funds earmarked to the state in the past two years, and Simon told lawmakers the funds are badly needed with active threats facing the state ahead of Election Day 2020.

“When the president of the United States and the Congress twice in two years come together for a pretty extraordinary outlay of funds for this purpose, you have to take it seriously,” Simon said. 

Approved in the House Subcommittee on Elections, HF3499 now heads to the House Government Operations Committee. A companion, SF3548, sponsored by Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

The federal dollars, when appropriated by the Legislature, could be used for things like additional training of local elections officials, strengthening cybersecurity efforts and helping local jurisdictions offset costs they may face after rigorous testing of their voting infrastructure, Simon said. 

He also told lawmakers that Minnesota is behind in its efforts to secure its election systems ahead of this November’s elections.

HAVA funds allocated to the state in 2018 were held up last year by Senate Republicans who wanted other election changes in exchange for releasing the money. The funds were finally OK’d via a law passed in May 2019.

That 15-month lag has left the state with some catching up to do, Simon said.

The funds that would be appropriated by HF3499 are available until Dec. 21, 2024. In order to use them, a 20% state match — or approximately $1.5 million — is required by December 2021. The bill does not appropriate funds to meet that match.

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