Minnesota secretary of state race plays out with election integrity as key issue

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon watched as Brooklyn Park officials tested voting machines in public Wednesday, as Simon tries to call attention to transparency in the election process.

The two-term Democrat faces Republican Kim Crockett in next week's election. Crockett has sowed doubts about the 2020 election results, criticized Simon's handling of that election, and has raised concerns about absentee voting this year. Simon leads Crockett in public polling. 

Speaking to reporters in Brooklyn Park, Simon said he's responded to a nationwide FBI warning about polling place security by reshuffling staff to help cities and counties. But there are no known threats in Minnesota, he said.

"We have no evidence, we’ve heard no reports about a credible or specific threat in Minnesota," Simon said. "I would say, generally speaking, the risk is lower in Minnesota than in other places. That doesn’t mean it’s zero. It’s never zero."

Minnesota elections require 30,000 people to staff polling places. Despite the highly charged environment, Brooklyn Park City Clerk Devin Montero said he's found enough people to staff all of the city's sites.

Absentee voting runs through Monday. Election officials had accepted 375,983 ballots as of Tuesday afternoon, up about 25% from this point in the 2018 midterm election, according to data from Simon's office.

There have been 7,637 rejected absentee ballots this year, a similar pace to 2018. The top reason for rejection: no witness signature on the ballot envelope.

In 2020, Simon temporarily waived the witness signature requirement in a consent decree to settle a lawsuit brought by voter groups. The rule is in effect this year.

Crockett has blamed Simon for causing confusion.

"He sowed the seeds in 2020 for this happening in the next election cycle," Crockett told reporters during a news conference at the state Capitol this week. 

Local election officials are supposed to contact voters and get them a new ballot. 

"A rejected ballot doesn’t mean the voter is out of luck," Simon said. "A rejected ballot simply means that they are contacted so they can do a do-over. They can cure that ballot."

This week, Crockett warned people not to put their absentee ballots in blue U.S. Postal Service boxes, claiming they could be stolen. When asked for evidence of that happening in Minnesota, Crockett said she wasn't aware of any.

"I’m not attempting to sow distrust," she said. "Just because you’re a candidate running for secretary of state hopefully doesn’t bar you from pointing out things that could be better."

Simon said Crockett was "stirring the pot for no good reason." 

The issue is becoming a moot point, he said. Because few business days are left before the election, voters should plan to drop off absentee ballots at their elections office or vote in person, Simon said.

Turnout was 64.25% in the 2018 midterm. Simon declined to offer a turnout prediction but said he sees a similar voter intensity this year.