Governance
Written by Tom Steward | March 3, 2020

MN Secretary of State links to pro-Warren website for Super Tuesday poll finder

Minnesota Secretary Steve Simon regularly lectures legislators over the online vulnerability of Minnesota’s election system, but it turns out the only threat so far has come from Simon himself.

In the first key test of the system in the 2020 presidential year  election cycle, the poll finder on the Secretary of State’s home page apparently imploded “due to heavy demand” this morning with requests from Minnesotans looking for their polling place. Then to make matters worse, someone in Simon’s office linked the state website to a pro-Elizabeth Warren website that provides polling place information. The Star Tribune and other media pounced on the state’s top election official’s link to the partisan page in the thick of Super Tuesday voting.

In what he called “a serious lapse of judgment,” Simon said that after encountering capacity problems on the official website, some voters were temporarily redirected to the web page of BoldProgressives.org, a progressive organization that has backed Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. He said the link was active for about 17 minutes.

“As many are now aware, our online pollfinder was inaccessible for a period of time earlier today,” Simon said in a statement shortly before 1 p.m., midway through the state’s Super Tuesday primary election. “We have now restored service to that tool. We have no evidence that Minnesota’s voting systems were hacked or otherwise interfered with in any way.”

The lack of an explanation for the breakdown immediately raised questions in the Pioneer Press about the reliability of the state system and suspicions over who linked the taxpayer-funded website to the partisan pro-Warren page.

“Heavy demand” seems surprising because the tool hasn’t experienced problems like this in recent general elections, when turnout, presumably, would be expected to be higher. Tuesday’s presidential primary offers Democrats a field of candidates, but Republicans only have President Donald Trump’s name on the ballot, and most political observers expected many Republicans to stay home.

Simon had an opportunity to explain the embarrassing episode to lawmakers at a previously scheduled appearance before the Senate Committee on State Government and Elections. But he backed out, angering key legislators in search of answers.

Committee chairwoman Mary Kiffmeyer, a Big Lake Republican and former secretary of state, questioned the failure of a “tried and true system that has been around for a long time and has functioned at very high volumes of traffic.”

“Secretary Simon says it’s all hands on deck to address this issue,” Kiffmeyer said. “If it’s all hands on deck, he should be here to answer our questions.”

Simon’s  failure to appear at such a critical time probably won’t help his bid for millions more dollars for a system that failed its first big test of 2020.

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