Last week Secretary of State Steve Simon undertook a tour of all 87 counties. He wanted to learn about the local government's experiences during the 2016 election. His goal was to get the State to give some kind of grant or match to help with the cost of replacing aging voting machines. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which was a one time federal fund to help purchase equipment. Minnesota purchased most of its equipment between 2004-2007.
According to the vendors, the machines are good for 10 years, and can be pushed to 15 years max. In 2017, the max is getting dangerously close. It costs roughly $10,000 per polling location to upgrade. Simon's case for State funding is that upgrading the machines is a mandatory cost that can't be deferred. The previous generation of machines was purchased with help from federal funding for all 50 states. 43 states are in need of upgrades.
Vendors have reported that sooner or later some of the equipment will no longer be serviced. "I like to use the analogy of a flip phone. yes they can still be repaired, but it will cost more, and get tougher every year. I think getting ahead of this is a really good idea," said Simon.
The voting experience has a huge impact on voter confidence. Congress passed the Help America Vote Act after the 2000 Florida presidential recount caused by the controversy regarding state election equipment. (i.e. hanging chads) Upgrading the machines helps administer the election smoothly, improve accuracy and reporting, and boost voter confidence and therefore participation.
Minnesota returned to the top of the list for voter turnout during the 2016 election, with 74.72%. In line with improving voter experience, there has been a huge spike in "absentee voting," which, despite the term, also allows people to easily vote ahead of time. In past elections, the absentee vote was around 8-11%, this year it jumped to 22.85% in Minnesota. Part of the reason for the upswing is legislature got rid of the excuse needed to vote absentee. Simon actually wrote the bill. The huge advantages include allowing voters to vote in their own time and fully research each issue and candidate. The downside is that it does require more manpower to process the absentee ballots.
The website MNvotes.org works as a one stop shop for voters who want to register, find their polling place, or learn about the elections and laws. There is also a form for those who wish to be election judges.