In the spring of 2018, two years after foreign hackers attempted to disrupt and alter the outcome of the last presidential election, the federal government stepped up with welcome dollars to strengthen and secure voting systems across the nation.
Wisconsin quickly captured nearly $7 million by providing a $349,000 match. The Wisconsin Elections Commission then began improving its election administration, enhancing technology and upgrading election security.
State after state jumped at the federal dollars and put them to good use well in advance of Election Day Nov. 3, 2020.
But not Minnesota. Legislators politicized the allocation over two legislative sessions before finally accepting the funds. Minnesota was the last state to do so.
With another presidential election bearing down, the recently enacted federal budget included a fresh round of election-security funding. Millions for every state.
Wisconsin again wasted no time. On Jan. 14, the Wisconsin Election Commission approved a $1.6 million match to access a federal election security grant worth $7.8 million.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, for one, is warning lawmakers in St. Paul against another “pointless delay” in grabbing and using the federal money to help secure and safeguard the state’s vote.
The previous round of funding totaled $6.6 million for Minnesota. The money paid to upgrade hardware and software, modernize and recode the state’s 2004-created voter registration system, and hire more people, including a “cyber navigator,” among other actions.
Minnesota’s allocation this time would be $7.39 million, with a required 20% match or about $1.48 million.
“We really feel good going into 2020 about security. Can I sit here and tell you there’s a 0% chance that something bad could happen? No, that would be pandering and untrue,” Simon said. “But I can tell you we’re minimizing the risks. And we already had a lot going for us, just naturally, because we’re a paper-ballot state.”
Just as Wisconsin is. Every ballot in Wisconsin is either cast on paper or has a paper backup:
85 percent are cast on optical-scan paper ballots
5 percent are cast on hand-count paper ballots
10 percent are cast on touch-screen voting equipment that has a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. In the event of a recount or audit, the paper record is used.
Yes, low-tech beats high-tech -- as Simon puts it -- when it comes to election security.
Still, taking additional precautions to protect polling places is simply prudent. The Russians are expected to meddle again. Iran’s threats could include cyber warfare. There are other enemies out there.
Minnesota lawmakers return to the state Capitol on Feb. 11. The election is less than nine months after that. Taking necessary precautions to ensure a smooth vote with reliable results can’t be delayed. Not again.