At an I(MN)passe: Partisan, Policy Disputes Continue to Delay Election Funds

[Image via nmplabor]

Federal funds intended to assist states with election security upgrades are still at an impasse in Minnesota, with just a month left in the state legislative session. Minnesota Public Radio has more:

As the release of the Mueller report this week made clear, Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. In Illinois, Russian hackers made it into the state’s voter registration database.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, is trying to ward off similar attacks. But he says he needs access to federal money already allocated to Minnesota by the federal government for that specific purpose.

The DFL House has authorized him to use all $6.6 million Congress allowed, while the Republican Senate agreed to just $1.5 million.‘s being limited by the Minnesota Senate right now, for reasons that they won’t even articulate.”

The Senate allocation matches what Simon requested last session, an amount lost when then-Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a larger supplemental spending bill. Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said lawmakers need more time to discuss the additional money.

One major obstacle to Simon’s push to access the money is a former predecessor as Secretary of State:

Kiffmeyer, a former secretary of state who chairs the Senate elections committee, said the one-time federal allocation needs to be used carefully.

“The initial hearing raised more questions than gave answers. So, we’re doing a little more research, doing some more investigation, getting more questions answered as we work toward the balance of the $5 million. But the secretary can have the $1.5 million. That can happen in very short order to meet that immediate need.”

There are also some additional rather significant policy disagreements tied up in the dispute over funding:

Kiffmeyer is also resisting several election law changes favored by House Democrats. The list of DFL-backed proposals includes a restoration of voting rights for felons who’ve complete jail time and a new system for automatic voter registration.

Kiffmeyer said unlike the DFL-backed House bill, there are no election policy provisions in the Senate budget bill for state government.

“We have already had an election that was run last year under current Minnesota election law policy. The governor got elected, the house got their majority. It seemed to work pretty well for them. I think that Minnesota’s current election law is very open as far as access. So, I do not see us accepting any of the proposals in the Democrats’ policy bills.”

And yet, it appears the real sticking point is a proposed change to voter list rules for the state’s new presidential primary:

Kiffmeyer is also cool toward proposed adjustments in the 2016 law that sets up a presidential primary in Minnesota. They include a move to keep voters’ party-affiliation private. She said the primary is a political party activity.

Simon said he’s concern about the primary rules. He views them as a back-door party registration with no option to declare yourself independent or unaffiliated.

“You’re going to have to pick a team, pick a side, a red jersey or a blue jersey, that’s it. And the side that you pick will stay with you in public records for years and years and years.”

Legislation moving in the House would declare the voter information private, with the political parties getting a list of those who voted for their side.

If the impasse is to be broken, it needs to happen in the next month – and the current rhetoric seems to suggest the safer bet is on a continued impasse:

Lawmakers return from their Easter/Passover break and resume the 2019 session on Tuesday. That leaves just a month before the session adjournment to work out their differences on elections and other issues.

DFL House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley said the House is moving several pieces of legislation aimed at securing the election system while making it accessible to as many eligible voters as possible. He is not deterred by the lack of similar bills in the Senate.

“This is part of an overall theme this session,” he said. “The House is passing a lot of forward-looking, ambitious legislation, and we don’t know what if anything the Senate will be willing to do. But we’re trying to put as many proposals on the table to create as much room for negotiation and compromise as possible.”

This situation is incredibly unfortunate; while the two sides may have genuine differences on key issues, it really should not affect Minnesota’s ability to access federal funds made available over a year ago to assist with hardening the state’s election system against outside intrusion. Here’s hoping the legislature can see past the underlying disputes and make that money available in time to affect the 2020 election. Stay tuned …

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