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All Eyes on 2020, But MN Officials Focus on Election Security This Fall

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Minnesota election officials say voters should already be on the lookout for false information in next month's local races. (Morguefile)
Minnesota election officials say voters should already be on the lookout for false information in next month's local races. (Morguefile)
 By Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN - Producer, Contact
October 17, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota voters head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 5, to decide a host of municipal races and referendums.

Even though the presidential election is still a year away, state officials say ballot security is already a high priority this fall.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon says anyone who wants to disrupt the democratic process could use local races to spread false information.

He says hackers and other groups won't be taking this November off.

"The intelligence authorities tell us – meaning all the secretaries of state and elections administrators – to be on the lookout for that,” Simon relates. “And as you'd suspect, with any election, the stakes become higher and the likelihood of falsehoods become higher."

Simon adds it isn't only foreign adversaries posting false information in an effort to sway elections. He says there are plenty of fringe groups in the U.S. that post fake ads and articles.

Officials say voters can detect phony political information by looking for photos that have been altered, or online links that mischaracterize what a news story actually says.

Simon says the state's voter registration system is vital because it not only includes voter names, but also personal information and whether people are eligible to vote.

In the 2016 election, Minnesota was one of more than 20 states targeted by Russian hackers.

To ensure that doesn't happen again in 2020, Simon says the state is closely monitoring the system to detect any warning signs.

"Whether it's an off-year election, or off-off election, we always have to be vigilant when it comes to that piece of infrastructure,” he states. “We own it, we run it, we have to protect it."

Looking ahead, Simon says the state will use some funding provided by Congress to bolster election infrastructure ahead of the March primary.

He says Minnesota also is moving forward with a four-year plan to modernize the state's voter registration system.

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