The following article summarizes the original event which is listed below the summary.

Election disinformation and ‘the business of democracy’

Tue, February 28 2023, 12pm

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon focused on the important topic of “the business of democracy,” as he put it, for UMRA’s well-attended February 2023 forum. He spoke to give us a common understanding of what the current election system is, so as to address the urgent problem of election disinformation.

An important element in addressing election disinformation is to define what that term means, he said. It is not about genuine disagreements over what election policies should be. Rather, the term is aimed at deliberate distortion—for political or financial purposes or both—of what the current election system actually is. 

Simon gave an example from Pennsylvania: In 2020, knowing that absentee voting due to COVID would see a huge surge, the Pennsylvania secretary of state asked the state legislature for permission to begin processing absentee votes ahead of election day, to prepare them for counting once the polls closed. The legislature refused. There were then post-election claims of a suspicious big “dump” of ballots three days after the election to throw the election to a particular candidate. In fact, the delay was the result of the legislature’s refusal to permit early processing of lawfully cast absentee votes.

Other serious threats to election integrity that Simon noted are cynicism—especially the rejection of elections as a way to fix things—and foreign adversaries targeting cyber security.

“Our democracy is resilient,” he said, “But remember, resilient doesn’t mean indestructible.”

Minnesota’s enviable election process

So, what accounts for Minnesota’s enviable election process? Here are some of the facts Simon cited:

  • Minnesota has 3,000 polling locations and had 30,000 election judges even in the middle of the COVID pandemic.
  • The State, by law, permits each political party to have one, but only one, representative at a polling location to monitor the process.
  • Polling locations are protected by local law enforcement and not by privately recruited, outside groups.
  • The State allows no-excuse absentee voting, and has checks and balances in place to ensure legitimacy of absentee ballots.
  • The State has a tradition of broad bipartisan support for voter access. Indeed, in the summer of 1965, when the U.S. Congress approved the Voting Rights Act, all four Republicans and all four Democrats in Minnesota’s House delegation and both Minnesota senators voted for passage.
  • Voting machines in Minnesota go through two layers of security review before use, one federal and one state.
  • Minnesota makes ballot information available in 12 different languages, including American Sign Language. Why? Because even fluent non-native English speakers benefit from receiving technical instructions in their native languages. Minnesota has been printing ballots in languages other than English since 1896.

In conclusion, the secretary of state said he is “a long-term optimist” and thinks that Minnesota will continue to lead the nation in sound voting practices. We should all do our part in helping to accomplish that objective.

Secretary of State Simon is a distinguished graduate of the U of M Law School, and many of his family members have proudly obtained degrees from the U over the years. Prior to becoming secretary of state, Simon worked as a lawyer in private practice, as an assistant attorney general of Minnesota, and, for 10 years, as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

—Bradley Clary, UMRA Program Committee member

Event recording
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The history and future of elections and democracy in Minnesota

Tue, February 28 2023, 12pm
Steve Simon
Minnesota Secretary of State

Event to be held via Zoom.

If you are interested in the history and future of elections and democracy in Minnesota, then UMRA’s February 2023 Forum is a “don’t miss” event. Our featured guest will be Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, who defeated Kim Crockett in November to win a third term in office.

Simon plans to look in the rearview mirror to remind us of where we have been, to place the elections of 2022 in the context of the national elections of 2020, and to identify the lessons from 2020 that informed the election processes of 2022. Then, he will look at what is ahead; in particular, he plans to discuss with us the problem of election disinformation. During the question-and-answer time, he hopes to have a robust exchange of ideas with webinar attendees to address this important problem.

Simon is Minnesota’s 22nd secretary of state. He was first sworn into office on January 5, 2015, when, as Minnesota’s chief elections officer, he pledged in his inaugural address to “work with anyone, of any political affiliation, from any part of our state” to protect, defend, and strengthen the right to vote in Minnesota.

Before being elected Minnesota’s secretary of state, Simon served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for 10 years, representing the communities of St. Louis Park and Hopkins. He served as chair of the House Elections Committee in 2013 and 2014. He also played a lead role in many of the election reforms that Minnesota has embraced over the last several years, including online voter registration; easier access to voting for Minnesotans overseas, including those in the military; and "no-excuse voting," which allows any voter to request and cast an absentee/mail ballot with no excuse or reason required.

Simon also served as assistant attorney general of Minnesota and worked as a lawyer in private practice for several years. He earned his JD in 1996 from the University of Minnesota Law School, where, among other distinctions, he was a student director in the Law School’s National Moot Court program.

Go to https://z.umn.edu/umra-forum-February-2023 and register now for this Zoom webinar on Tuesday, February 28, starting at 12 p.m.

—Brad Clary, UMRA Program Committee

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