How, exactly, would the state use election security funding?

Rep. Tim Sanders, left, and Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, right, discussed a proposed presidential primary during a House committee hearing. Tim Pugmire | MPR News.

In the ongoing legislative debate over election security funding, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon is re-releasing a 20-point plan that details how his office would use $6.6 million in federal funding to secure state systems.

Simon said the federal funding would be used for everything from securing the state’s voter registration system and adding new software and protections to hiring employees to help increase state election cyber-security. Many of the recommendations came from the Department of Homeland Security, Simon said Wednesday. Read the full plan here.

Among the details in Simon’s plan:

  • Cyber-security training for counties and cities
  • Hiring a “cyber navigator” to help local governments respond to incidents
  • Update security and modernize the state’s voter registration system
  • Adding software to watch activity in state databases in real time and reports suspicious activity
  • Add data storage
  • Hiring someone to write cyber security policies

Simon is facing opposition from some legislators over how the state will use the funding. The DFL-led House passed a bill with bipartisan support to allow the state to access all $6.6 million in available federal funding, but last week the Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill that authorized his office to tap a smaller portion of the funds, roughly $1.5 million. Authorizing the funding was supposed to be one of the early, bipartisan wins of the year, but it’s been wrapped up in weeks of debate.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, the author of the proposal, said the state needs to move slowly to avoid any missteps with the funding. “Minnesota is thorough, they’re careful. We do things that way,” she said in a debate on the bill last week. “We don’t want to have another MNsure thing or a MNLARS where we rush headlong.”

But Simon said he’s been clear how the money would be used: his plan went through a working group that included state legislators last year.

“While we continue to wait for the Senate to work with Minnesotans to enhance our election security, it is important that all Minnesotans see exactly what the working group proposed,” the DFLer said in a statement. “I remain ready – even eager – to answer any of the as yet unasked questions from the Senate majority about how we will spend these federal funds to enhance our election cyber-security. All they have to do is ask.”

Minnesota is the only state in the nation that has yet to tap any of the funds provided by the federal government. In 2016, Minnesota was one of 21 state election systems that Russians attempted to crack.

A conference committee of House and Senate members will meet Thursday night to discuss the proposal.

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