WORTHINGTON — Within the last several days I’ve had a couple of chances to interact with Steve Simon, Minnesota’s new secretary of state. I saw him this past Friday at the annual Minnesota Newspaper Association convention, at which he was a lunch guest, and spoke to him over the phone a week before that.
Simon has certainly hit the ground running since taking office, reaching out across the state in an effort to make himself known as well as hear from Minnesotans. In our phone interview, Simon said one of his primary goals is to let people know that his work is not something that merely “happens in St. Paul; it’s an 87-county job.” He also sees the secretary of state post as a partnership between himself and Minnesotans — and, by all means, apolitical in nature.
One of Simon’s priorities as he gets settled into his job is a move toward early voting, which he said currently exits in 32 other U.S. states (including all those bordering Minnesota). “We saw a 55 percent spike in absentee voting (in 2014) as compared to the last non-presidential election, which tells me that people like the freedom and flexibility to vote from wherever they like,” Simon said in our phone conversation. He went to explain that by moving toward early voting, “a person can go to a polling place under game-day conditions for a period of two weeks.” Ballots cast would be processed and counted immediately; there would be no running tally. “It’s a big money- and time-saver for local governments,” Simon said. “Absentee ballots, though vital and necessary, are expensive.”
Simon also plans to push pre-registration for high school students — likely for 16- and 17-year-olds — as a means of getting “good habits started early.” He said it has been successful in a number of other states.
Another idea of Simon’s involves the streamlining of the motor voter law, which he said would require that people processing vehicle registrations ask their customers if they are registered to vote. He also wants to utilize his office as a way of letting all Minnesotans — particularly younger people — about opportunities for serving the state besides voting.
Simon, a DFLer and former state legislator, appears to bringing a lot of energy and positive ideas to the Capitol. I look forward to seeing what he can get done.