Fargo Forum | Steve Simon: The very best ideas come from people of Minnesota

By Steve Simon

When I first took office in January as Minnesota secretary of state, I said the work of my office doesn’t happen at a desk in St. Paul. It happens in Clay County and Cook County and Cottonwood County.

Now, after traveling to all 87 counties in Minnesota, it’s clear to me not only that the work of my office takes place in every corner of this state but that the best ideas come from there, too.

I’ll be in Moorhead today to discuss election reform with Clay County Auditor-Treasurer Lori Johnson, business services improvements with the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, and domestic violence prevention with the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead.

It is the last stop on my first statewide tour as secretary of state, a tour I look forward to repeating every year I have the privilege to serve the people of Minnesota.

Perfect place

Clay County is a perfect place to end this year’s tour because it is a microcosm of Minnesota.

It is both urban and rural, and represented by diverse political voices. It is home to five public and private higher education institutions. Its economy is driven by agricultural, corporate and manufacturing entities. It is a symbol of the fact that Minnesota has a lot of unique voices, and that in order to make progress on important issues, we must find common ground.

We’ve already found common ground on several elections-related issues this year, such as giving equal voting protections to all members of our National Guard, but there’s still more to do.

Minnesota will play a key role in the 2016 election, and there are two significant issues our state needs to come together on sooner rather than later.

Old equipment

The first issue I’ve heard about from nearly every county, and has been one of my top concerns: aging election equipment.

A report just released by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University revealed that 43 states, including Minnesota, will be using election equipment in 2016 that’s at least 10 years old. This equipment will need to be replaced soon.

To address this looming issue, I have put together a group of city and county leaders, election officials and legislators from across the state to develop solutions to bring to the Legislature.

Natural disasters

The second issue is making sure Minnesota is prepared if a natural disaster, disease outbreak or other large-scale emergency affects an election. While Minnesota is well-equipped to deal with problems affecting one or two polling locations, we must be prepared if a crisis affects a large portion of the state.

My office will deliver a report to the Legislature in January with a set of recommendations to help counties address emergencies that could impact an election, including procedures to ensure the integrity of the election system, such as securing ballots if a polling place had to be evacuated.

My goal is to be a secretary of state for all Minnesotans. That means listening. I look forward to discussing these issues today in Moorhead, as well as in 2016 as I hit the road again to all 87 counties.

Simon is Minnesota secretary of state.