Today Senate Republicans brought questions for Secretary of State Steve Simon based on reports of voters being directed to partisan websites when searching for their polling location. Simon had been scheduled to testify before the State Government and Elections Committee at 1 pm today but informed the Chair, Senator Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) just before the hearing that he would not be attending. In a statement, Simon blamed a staff member for adding the partisan websites to the list options for redirection.
“If it’s all hands on deck, he should be able to be here to answer our questions,” Kiffmeyer said. “In fact, I have even more questions. How did the staffer gain access to do this? Where did they get this list of sites? And why, having received an increase of funding each year to fully fund their needs, does the Secretary need to rely on third parties when this system has worked fine for much bigger elections?”
In response to the suggestion that this could be fraud, Senator John Jasinski (R- Faribault) strongly advised the committee to read the Secretary’s statement that this was not fraud but in fact a deliberate action. “This wasn’t hacking, this was a mistake,” Jasinski said. “How can we be sure this won’t happen in the next election?” he asked.
State law specifically prevents state employees, including those in the secretary of state office, from taking part in any political activity on state time. “What I want to know is what, if any, law has been broken here?” asked Senator Scott Newman (R- Hutchinson). “Clearly, this is an employee inserting their own political agenda using state time and resources. And if that isn’t a violation of state law, it should be.”
“Last November, the secretary of state elections reporting website failed, and we never found out why,” Senator Mark Koran (R- North Branch) asked. “I’m wondering when we’re going to stop seeing failures and start getting answers from this office.”
“The Secretary of State is responsible for his office and accountable to the public. His statement is not enough. We need answers from him to these questions, and maybe more questions, as we learn what happened.” Kiffmeyer concluded. Without Simon there to respond, the committee instead submitted a list of questions to his office for answers.
The questions from the committee follow:
- Why is the Secretary of State office’s website redirecting voters to a partisan website that endorsed Elizabeth Warren?
- The original website voters were redirected to, act.boldprogressive.org, is currently down. Did you or your staff direct this website to be shut down?
- What communication or involvement did the office have with this website and their developers in fixing this issue?
- This website also prompted many to submit identifying personal data such as name and email address to gain access to their polling place information. Who has access to this data?
- Does the Secretary of State have an agreement with these sites to share data?
- If so, what data is included?
- What other websites are Minnesotans potentially redirected to when trying to use this function or any function found on the SOS website?
- What list of websites are authorized to be used in the case a redirect from the original Secretary of State website?
- What is your vetting process for the sites used by your office?
- Who has oversight over the selection of which websites are used?
- What paperwork or approval process do the redirect sites go through to be linked?
- What follow-up, if any, are given to ensure these sites serve the public in a non-partisan manner?
- How many people were redirected to the act.boldprogressive.org site when looking for their polling places?
- What other sites were the public redirected to, other than the one mentioned above?
- How many visits to your website will cause it to be overloaded and prompt this re-direct page to appear?
- How many individual website visits can you accommodate in any given day?
- If your system can’t handle around half a million voters today, what are you going to do when the number of voters is 3 million later this year?
- What steps have you taken to address the influx of requests and site traffic leading up to, and on, election day?
- Last year there were issues with your website reporting municipal election results. How can you guarantee our results for the primary tonight, or future general election, will not be in jeopardy as well?
- What steps will you take to preserve the public trust in the Secretary of States’ office and their election security?
- What guarantees can you give the public to ensure that they are being treated in a non-partisan, fair manner, when participating in elections?
- What are you doing to address IT related issues, specifically relating to elections?