Aging voting machines a concern as election draws near

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Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon made stops in Wadena, Park Rapids and other towns last week to talk with election coordinators about the upcoming election.

Simon highlighted his challenge to the people of Minnesota to return Minnesota back to number one in voter turnout in the country this November.

In his meeting with Wadena County Elections Coordinator Rosalie Miller, Simon heard about some issues facing Wadena.

"We were pleased that Secretary Simon was available to stop by and talk with us about our concerns and the upcoming election," Miller said.

Simon called Miller a pro when it comes to elections. She has been the county's elections coordinator since 2002. Before that, she was a township clerk and had been an election judge for 13 years.

The main concern she has is replacing aging voting equipment. The county's current equipment was purchased in 2004 and 2006. In addition, two machines were purchased this year out of necessity.

"We try to include it when we're planning and then it ends up being cut from the county's budget to balance," she said.

The problem is that parts are becoming unavailable due to the age of the machines.

"We test and test to make sure everything is in working order," Miller added.

Secretary Simon said that unfortunately no federal money is available to replace the equipment. At the state level, funding has been included in bills only to be cut before the bill passes.

"We're hoping the money is included this next year," Miller said.

One positive in Minnesota is that the state has paper ballots, Miller and Simon said.

"We always have the paper trail if there are questions of fraud," Simon said.

Having paper ballots means that the vote counts can be reviewed if anything seems questionable, Miller said.

"This is probably going to be the biggest election in recent years," Miller said.

Simon also talked about some of his 2016 voter outreach initiatives. He has unveiled a slate of new, non-partisan initiatives, aimed at voters with historically lower turnout rates, including young people and communities of color.

He launched a Pledged-to-Vote program, which is designed to make nonpartisan voter outreach easy and effective for any individual or group of individuals, such as nonprofits, businesses, food shelves, military family organizations and human services providers. Nearly 100 organizations throughout the state have signed up.

This fall, he's launching Minnesota's first ever statewide mock election for high school students, called Minnesota Students Vote 2016. High school students across the state will vote for who they think should be our next President. More than half of Minnesota high schools have signed up to participate so far.

Also coming this fall is the Minnesota College Ballot Bowl, a new voter registration competition where campuses across the state will compete against one another over the course of several weeks to register the most students.