Minnesota House, Senate still split on how to spend $6.6 million for election security

Image 1 of 3

It’s been two months since the beginning of the legislative session in St. Paul and lawmakers still have not resolved election security funding.

Many thought this would be one of the quickest bills to hit the Governor’s desk, but the Secretary of State is still waiting.

At issue is the federal money that Congress has already given to Minnesota, but only the legislature has the power of the purse and it has to approve spending it.

It’s $6.6 million that would upgrade the voter registration system. The House has already approved spending the money and the Senate has approved spending less.

As the bills go to conference committee tomorrow night, Secretary of State Steve Simon says Minnesota is running out of time.

“Well, the part of the funding that we have said needs to be job number one is redoing our statewide voter registration,” Simon said Wednesday. “It’s a big, complex, expensive database that was built in 2004 and built well. But, like a lot of things built in 2004, it needs substantial modernization and upgrading. And that, quite frankly, is the number one vulnerability of our system.”

Simon says hackers have already tried breaking into the voter registrations system, but the attempt failed. Homeland Security officials notified Minnesota it was one of 21 states targeted by a foreign government in 2016.

That’s why Congress has authorized money through the Help America Vote Act, to allow states to harden their security systems.

The congressional money, however, only lasts four more years.

Simon says he is waiting to hire three computer coders whose jobs will take four years to finish the upgrades.

The House bill authorizes the full $6.6 million. The Senate version takes a different approach, authorizing spending $1.5 million.

“The problem with the Senate approach in only authorizing us to use about 20 percent of the money, it’s sort of like buying a car without locks on it,” Simon added. “It’s giving us something, in this case maybe modernizing a particular system without any of the stuff we need to make the system actually safe and secure and guard and protect it in the future. The hardware, the software, the other things. So, it’s incomplete and it’s not enough.”

The conference committee will negotiate the differences between the two bills starting Thursday night. So far, Minnesota is the last state to approve using these federal dollars for election security upgrades.