The Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee passed their omnibus budget bill on Wednesday, focusing on good governance, eliminating waste, and promoting fair and free elections. This bill contains comprehensive funding for the two-year state government budget, which highlights the implementation of government efficiencies to rein in spending while continuing to function at its highest capacity. Improvements to election security will significantly increase integrity and transparency in Minnesota elections.
Minnesota is one of only three states in the nation that do not provide provisional ballots on Election Day. These ballots are for individuals who have not registered and would not otherwise be able to register same-day due to lack of identification, but still want to vote. Individuals deemed by the courts, Secretary of State, or Department of Public Safety as challenged voters would also be included in the group to use provisional ballots. The voter is allowed to register and cast a ballot but given one week to prove eligibility in order for their vote to be counted.
Provisional ballots are a safe, easy measure, broadly accepted across the nation, to ensure each vote is treated equally and counted in a timely manner. A 2018 audit of Minnesota’s voter registration highlighted provisional ballots as a simple measure to prevent voter fraud. Perhaps most importantly, provisional ballots still allow eligible voters to register and vote on election day and their ballots receive the same protections as those who were registered ahead of time. Provisional ballots also prevent ineligible individuals, such as those serving a felony sentence, non-U.S. citizens, or those who do not meet residency requirements, from participating in the election and marginalizing their neighbor’s ballots.
“I want all Minnesotans to be encouraged to participate each election cycle, regardless of party,” Senator Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), Chair of the State Government Committee, said Wednesday, “and the way to do that is to make voting easily accessible while maintaining the extremely important integrity of our elections. Studies show that individuals from each party have concerns about the security of tactics like ‘vouching’ at the polls because there is almost no way to track that. Commonsense measures like this are key to providing fair, free, and open elections in Minnesota.”
This budget is also focused on eliminating government bloat by finding areas in the budget that have been misused, underused, or have become more efficient. It is important to continuously audit the government to ensure Minnesotans’ tax dollars are being well-spent. This section of the bill includes several provisions to fund the state government without going over budget, such as:
- Limit the number of state employees based on the state’s population
- Reduced funding to agencies for positions that are unfilled after 180 days
- Equitable geographic distribution of state employee layoffs
- Sale of the unused state-owned COVID morgue in St. Paul
“Over the last year, Minnesotans have cut their own budgets to adjust to COVID, found efficiencies to make ends meet, and sacrificed much of their individual freedom for the health of their communities. It is absolutely necessary that the government tighten its belt to the best of its ability to remove some of that burden off the shoulders of our constituents. This budget does not cut funding from departments, but instead implements efficiencies and passes the savings onto Minnesotans,” Kiffmeyer said.
The State Government budget also includes key protections for cybersecurity, including the establishment of a Legislative Commission on Cybersecurity. This commission would prepare the state for potential cyberattacks while ensuring the state is taking the necessary steps to protect Minnesotans in the future. The Minnesota Senate has been working for several years to ramp up cybersecurity measures after having dealt with several hacks to State Government departments such as the Department of Human Services. Aside from being easily hacked, many of these online services have simply failed from the point of implementation dating back to 2013 with the launch of MNsure. It is the role of the government to ensure their public services are safe for the public to use. Having consistent breaches in some of the largest state departments shows that the system is failing and the time to update it is now.
“The goal of this budget is to place a velvet glove of protection over Minnesotans. Whether that be through keeping your personal information safe on the web, saving you from tax-dollar waste, or ensuring your vote is counted fairly, the Minnesota Senate is committed to efficient and fair operations,” Kiffmeyer said.