Secretary of State Simon encourages community members and students to register to vote

Secretary of State Simon encourages community members, students to register to vote  

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon recently visited Morris to give a presentation to area students and allow them to ask questions, and take part in the “Community Conversations” series hosted by West Central Initiative.

Simon says his goals as Secretary of State are simple: to expand access to voting, remove barriers to voting, make business services as streamlined as possible, strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence, and, what he says is most important, be a Secretary of State for all Minnesotans.

Simon told both the Community Conversations attendees, as well as the high school crowd, about a new law in Minnesota that allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, which will automatically register them to vote when they turn 18. 

“If everything checks out, if you are who you say you are and you live where you say you live, then on your 18th birthday, you will be registered to vote,” Simon explained. He went on to say that this law will have young people thinking of themselves as voters before they even are voters, and will have a positive impact on voter turnout because research shows that when people vote the first time they are eligible, they are more likely to make voting a frequent habit. “That’s a good thing, no matter where a person stands politically, if they are red, blue, candidate A, or candidate B, it is a good thing, and welcome,” he said. Similarly, automatic voter registration ensures that Minnesotans with proven citizenship and voter eligibility will remain registered to vote at their proper address when they interact with the Department of Public Safety or other government agencies. Minnesota also offers same-day voter registration in which a voter can bring identification with their current name and address, or an approved photo identification and an approved document, such as a utility bill, with their address.

Minnesota is a very “pro-voter” state, Simon said. The idea that elections are real and mean something is a value that is commonly instilled in Minnesota residents from a young age, people get elected to a myriad of positions and offices, and what those elected officials do in that office matters. “It’s not that we agree on every election proposal or policy, but I think that there is a sense in Minnesota that the vote is something special,” Simon added. He used the 1965 Voting Rights Act as an example of Minnesota’s deep dedication to voting. A right today that is uncontroversial was indeed extremely controversial six decades ago. Minnesota had eight members in the United States House of Representatives, much like today, and also just like today, had four democrats and four republicans. These members were deeply divided on many issues, Simon said, but when they voted on the 1965 Voting Rights Act, all members voted in favor, and Minnesota was one of the few states that voted unanimously on this legislation. 

Attendees of the Community Conversations event were allowed to ask questions of the secretary. The question-and-answer portion was moderated by Elizabeth Dunbar, editor of MinnPost, who began with a question about third-party candidates, such as the Legalize Marijuana Now party, who sometimes aim to take advantage of voters who are disenfranchised by both the Democrat and Republican parties by running a platform on a single issue.

Secretary Simon responded that he wants voters to have the maximum choices available to them, and provided a reminder that ballots do have write-in sections for every office in Minnesota as well if no candidate suits their needs. He says not to totally discount any third-party candidates. “Voters can surprise you, and if they don’t like what’s offered to them by the two major parties, we know in Minnesota that people know how to express that,” he said, reminiscing about candidates such as Jesse Ventura who didn’t run on a Democratic or Republican platform.

The secretary was asked about the status of ranked-choice voting in Minnesota, to which he responded that he was actually testifying on a ranked-choice voting bill earlier that same day. Minnesota has two types of cities, charter and statutory. Statutory cities abide totally by Minnesota State Statutes, whereas charter cities create their charters to abide by. Currently, only charter cities have the option to use ranked-choice voting in local elections. The bill currently on the table would allow all cities to make that choice for non-partisan municipal elections. There is nothing currently at the state level to do this, but this could be a step to go in that direction if the people like it.

Another topic discussed was election canvassing boards. On election night, county election officials enter unofficial election results on the Office of the Secretary of State’s website. Following election day, county election officials work to make any corrections as necessary before they canvass their results. It is routine for election officials to discover some errors or typos during this process. Once the results have been proofed by county election officials, the county canvassing board must review and approve the results before they are official. The board certifies the votes cast within the county for races that go beyond the county boundaries and certifies the election results for offices up for election that are voted upon exclusively within that county. Federal and statewide offices and legislative districts that cross county lines must be certified by the state canvassing board. Each county establishes a county canvassing board of five members: the county auditor, the court administrator of the district court in that county, the mayor or chair of the town board of the most populous municipality in the county, and two members of the county board. The canvassing board certification is open to the public, and the public can testify during these if they so choose.

When speaking with Morris Area students, Secretary Simon focused on registering to vote and becoming election judges. 

People as young as 16 can become election judges, he told students. The positions are paid and include two hours of paid training. A student who is an election judge is allowed out of school or work to be an election judge under state law. Becoming an election judge prior to having the ability to vote can help establish voting as a habit early on.

Encouraging people to vote was a key takeaway from the secretary’s visits. He noted that there are many reasons why someone might not participate in voting, such as feeling overwhelmed by the amount of offices that are up for election that a voter might not be informed about. He said that the best strategy to overcome the feeling of overwhelm is to vote for the offices and people that you are knowledgeable about and leave the rest blank, reminding people that there is no penalty for leaving options on a ballot blank.

Some people feel that voting doesn’t matter, and used examples from elections in recent history that were decided by only a handful of votes. Last November, the Hopkins city council race was decided by only one vote. 

Another common reason someone might abstain from voting is out of protest. While he understands that feeling, Simon says that voters shouldn’t “give into it.” A few years ago, he says he saw a t-shirt that read, “Failure to vote is not an act of rebellion, it is an act of surrender.” Communities who turn out in higher numbers to vote tend to gain more attention. Voter turnout in ages 18-24 was only 36%, while those aged 70 and older had a voter turnout of 83%, and those are the communities that politicians focus their energy on for support. 

Another important note that Secretary Simon spoke about was the increase in the spread of disinformation. Not only are there sources with the sole intention of spreading lies running rampant, but the use of artificial intelligence and deepfakes is taking root in local, state and federal elections. 

A deepfake is a video or recording of a person in which their face, body or voice has been digitally altered so they appear to be someone else. Typically, deepfakes are used maliciously or to spread false information.

Recently in New Hampshire, Simon said, a deepfake was created using the voice of President Joe Biden to make robocalls to residents ahead of the primary. The robocall claiming to be the president instructed people planning to vote for him to abstain from voting in the primary to “save their vote,” for the November general election. 

Simon stated that the Biden administration was able to alert the public that the call was falsified, but it provided a reminder that voters should be diligent when looking for information.