Election security is top of mind for state Secretary of State

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WILLMAR — State and federal officials have been working together to ensure the security of the upcoming midterm elections across the country, according to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.

Simon spoke to Ken Heitzman's sophomore U.S. history class Friday morning at Willmar Senior High School. He answered questions and talked about registering to vote and about election security.

Simon encouraged the students to register and vote when they are old enough, even if they aren't interested in politics.

"You should vote because people bled and died for that right," he said. "But it's not just about a selfless act; it's in your interest."

Simon borrowed a line from an acquaintance to make his point: "You may not be into politics, but politics is into you."

To those who might feel they're making a statement by not voting, he suggested that "failure to vote is not an act of rebellion; it's an act of surrender. ... I hope you won't surrender that political power you get on your 18th birthday."

Registering to vote in Minnesota is easy, Simon said. It can be done online at mnvotes.org.

Simon said younger voters generally vote in lower numbers, and he's looking for ways to turn that around.

One of his efforts in 2016 was a statewide mock election in high schools to show students that the act of voting is actually pretty easy, just filling in an oval. Willmar and other area schools participated. Simon said his office is planning another mock election this fall.

When a student asked what he's doing to eliminate voter fraud, Simon said the state has very little voter fraud — 11 people were convicted of fraud after the 2016 election, among nearly 3 million votes.

"The number one threat to elections is cyber attacks," he said. Minnesota was one of 21 states whose election systems were scanned before the 2016 election. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, it was done "at the behest of the Russian government," he said.

"We were not hacked," he said. "We don't know why they didn't get in; we may never know."

Homeland Security officials have told him the hackers are likely to be back, and he continues to push for more information and to implement security measures.

"I don't want to scare people," he said. "We do want people to understand that this is an issue."

Minnesota's election system uses paper ballots, and that makes it more secure than states that have relied on electronic voting with no paper trail, he said. Some states are returning to paper ballots to improve their security, he added.