Minnesota Secretary of State speaks at district council meeting


Marjorie Otto/Review • Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon spoke at the District 2 Community Council meeting on April 18. Simon’s most well-known duty is managing the state’s election process, which Simon spoke about during the meeting.

While Election Day is still many months away, it’s never too early to talk about the process, which is what the District 2 Community Council did during its April 18 annual meeting.

Besides electing new board members and discussing goals and projects to work on for the next year, the annual meeting featured a keynote speaker: Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon. 

The District 2 Community Council represents the northeast neighborhoods of St. Paul, like Hayden Heights, Hillcrest, Frost Lake and Beaver Lake. The council is part of the St. Paul District Council system, which consists of 17 councils that serve to make recommendations to city staff about a variety of issues, including zoning, licensing for businesses and housing.

 

A culture of participation

Simon has served as Secretary of State since 2015, where his most well-known role is managing the state’s election process.

During the April 18 meeting, Simon spoke about Minnesota elections and also addressed national concerns about cybersecurity and election hacking.

Simon started the meeting by explaining that Minnesota ranks No. 1 out of all 50 states in terms of voter turnout. He said during the 2016 election, nearly three quarters of eligible Minnesota voters cast votes.

He said one of the biggest factors leading to Minnesota’s high voter turnout has to do with the state’s voting laws. Minnesota is one of 16 states that allows same-day voter registration, making it easy for people to just show up and vote without needing to remember to register ahead of time. 

The state also makes it easy to vote via an absentee ballot with it’s recent “no excuses absentee voting” law, Simon said — in the past voters had to sign an oath providing a reason why they couldn’t vote in person. The third factor, he said, is a lack of voter ID laws. In 2012, Minnesotans turned down a constitutional amendment requiring a government-issued ID to be able to vote.

Simon said Minnesota also has a long-established culture of participating in elections. “We just have that feeling in Minnesota.”

He added that Minnesotans seem to have a lot of trust in the system. But he warned that the state must stay vigilant as well, giving the example of the 2016 election and issues of cyber security.

Earlier this year, Simon said he and his office were notified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that an entity, which was most likely working for Russia, had tried to access the state’s voter registration database. Minnesota was one of 21 states where this happened. While no information was stolen, Simon said the incident is motivation to continue to find ways to keep data secure. Illinois and Arizona ended up being the only two states where voter registration data was compromised.  

Simon said when it comes to the physical votes cast in Minnesota, it’s nearly impossible to hack, as Minnesota still uses an “old school” method: pen and paper, which “are pretty hard to hack.”

 

Voter questions

Simon said while he is confident in the state’s system, he and other secretaries of state did push for increased federal funding to continue to work on protecting data and to get ahead of the hackers. 

“I’m straddling a line between bringing alarm without being an alarmist,” Simon said, adding that he doesn’t want voters to lose faith and not vote at all. 

At the end of his discussion, audience members were able to ask a few questions. One visitor asked about the prevalence of voter fraud in the state. 

Simon said it’s very rare. In the 2016 election, 11 people out of a total of nearly 3 million voters were convicted of voter fraud. 

“That’s as close to statistical perfection as you can get,” he said, adding that his office does continue to be on the lookout for voter fraud, though the No. 1 threat is cyber security. 

Another visitor said he appreciates the ease of absentee voting, especially for those who may struggle with mobility or have other limitations that may make getting to a voting booth difficult. However, he said he worries about losing the sense of community that comes with going out to a polling station and voting with neighbors. 

Simon said he agreed with the sentiment, but added that it’s important voters have the option and ease of access to vote.

 

Doing neighborly duties

The rest of the meeting was focused on electing board members and discussing goals and projects the council will work on.  

The new board members elected that night are Loretta Novak, Jerry Romero, Holly Heaser, Kimberly Adelsman, Sue Hauwiller, Mark Helgerson, Cassie Stewart, Victoria Caprioni and Jeanne Gehrman.

Council program director Lisa Theis said there are still three open board positions available following the April 18 meeting. For those interested in serving on the voluntary board, contact Theis at info@district2council.org or call 651-774-2220.

The council also shared the goals it will be working on this year, including facilitating more citizen participation in community affairs, using the council’s plan to guide land use and zoning issues, making the council, including its staff and board, more efficient when it comes to citizen engagement, and promoting outreach to all residents within District 2. 

The goals tie in with the council’s recent hiring of two new staff members — Kansas Romportl and Ann Vang — who will be working primarily with the neighborhood’s Hmong and Spanish-speaking populations to help better serve them.

In addition, the council will continue to represent the neighborhood’s interests as the former Hillcrest Golf Course is sold and redeveloped in the near future. The council will also be organizing the White Bear Avenue parade, working on an auto theft prevention project and organizing community events like a neighborhood garage sale and monthly coffee and conversation gatherings. 

To contact the District 2 Community Council, call 651-774-2220 or visit www.district2council.org.

 

– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto


 

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