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Secretary of State candidates Howe, Simon talk election security

Touting a greater need for fair, honest, open and secure elections, John Howe of Red Wing hopes to unseat Steve Simon, the man currently charged with overseeing elections as Minnesota secretary of state.

Howe, a Republican, has held public office as mayor and a state senator. Simon, the Democrat, was elected in 2014 and served in the state House. Independent William Denney is the third person in the race.

For a start, Howe said he would put the voting system security in the hands of the cybersecurity unit operated by the Minnesota National Guard.

"What we've learned in the past few years from the MNsure debacle and the still-unfixed MNLars license system is that state government doesn't have the expertise to build, operate and maintain a critical IT system," he said. "The current secretary of state also has allowed an outside vendor to have control over parts of Minnesota's voting system. This is what resulted in the series of inaccurate results posted during this year's primary in Ramsey County and elsewhere."

Simon counters that Minnesota voting system is secure.

"But the No. 1 threat to the integrity of our election system nationally and in Minnesota is the danger of a cyberattack by outside forces trying to destabilize our democracy. Minnesota was one of the 21 states targeted by Russian hackers in 2016," he said. "Fortunately, we passed the test and kept out all intruders."

This election also is personal for Howe.

"I once lost an election in which my opponent cheated by violating state election laws. All he and the DFL party had to do — once they were caught cheating — was pay a settlement to the Campaign Finance Board and my opponent kept his seat, as did 10 others in his party who also cheated."

He also wants to eliminate ineligible and illegal voting. He said at the start of the 2016 election, Minnesota had 26,000 challenged status voters on the poll roster — voters who failed the verification test, yet whose votes counted.

"We know there is a problem in Minnesota, but we don't know how big the problem is because the current secretary of state is defying a court order to release information about challenged voters," Howe said.

Simon notes he's "in the democracy business." He said his mission has been to make voting as easy as possible for all eligible Minnesotans. "As for policy innovations, I'll work for automated voter registration, expanded early voting, pre-registration for high school students, and campaign finance transparency."

Simon is proud of helping to lead Minnesota back to No. 1 in voter turnout in America — up from sixth.

One campaign issue is the looming 2020 presidential primary. Minnesota hasn't required voters to register as party members or declare their party affiliation, but last year the Legislature passed a law that will require voters in the 2020 presidential primary to request a Republican or Democrat ballot.

"I believe that's a horrible invasion of an individual voter's privacy, and my highest priority in the next legislative session will be fixing this law," Howe said.

The secretary of state also oversees a wide range of business-related filings. Simon said he has made it easier to start and maintain a business, expanded online offerings and plans to expand the office's quarterly economic reports, as well as the Minnesota Business Snapshot survey.

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