Capitol Comments

On Tuesday, March 20th, voters in the state of Illinois went to the polls to cast their ballots in the nation’s second primary election of the year. Illinois was the lone state in the 2016 election known to have its election systems breached in a hacking effort that penetrated the state’s voter registration data. While no actual voting machines or vote tallying were altered, hacking of voter rolls can cause just as much damage. “I think it’s only a matter of time before we suffer a devastating attack on our election systems unless our federal and state governments act quickly,” says J. Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan.

On June 12, Maine will become the first state to let residents rank their voting choices in their primary election choices for U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representatives.  The June 12th election will also allow a “people’s veto” of sorts that would overrule previous state legislation and permit ranked-choice voting again in the November 2018 general election. Ranked-choice voting is a process in which voters would rank candidates in order of preference, if no one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would then have their ballots added to the totals of their next-ranked candidates and the votes would be recounted. This process would continue until one candidate has a clear majority.

The threat of interference in United States elections remains a pressing topic of conversation over the coming months leading up to this year’s midterm elections. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence intend to face these issues head on. On February 16th and 18th, election officials from all fifty states engaged in a “national-level classified dialogue... to ensure the integrity and security of the nation’s election infrastructure,” according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). ODNI also noted that these briefings were to focus on “increasing awareness of foreign adversary intent and capabilities against the state’s election infrastructure, as well as a discussion of threat mitigation efforts.”

On Friday, February 9, 2018, President Trump signed a continuing resolution, or CR, and spending deal that ended a brief government shutdown that morning. The two-year deal funds the federal government at current levels until March 23.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon announced recently that $7 million will be available to Minnesota counties on a matching basis in the form of technology grants to buy new election equipment.