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Minnesota lawmakers fast track election security funding

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A bill to authorize Minnesota to access federal funds for election security is on the fast track at the Capitol and could be the first major proposal to pass in the 2019 legislative session.

The proposal passed through two House committees this week and a key Republican lawmaker is leading the effort in the Senate. DFL Gov. Tim Walz has said he will sign the bill.

The bill will allow Minnesota to unlock $6.6 million in federal funds. Part of that money will be used to hire three coders to help secure the state’s voter registration system. In 2016, hackers scanned Minnesota’s system for vulnerabilities but did not get in. State election officials want to prevent that from ever happening.

Legislators are making up for lost time.

The federal government passed the funding last year, and most states started using it immediately in the 2018 midterm election. But under Minnesota law, legislators needed to pass language to authorize Secretary of State Steve Simon to use the money.

A bill to do so was vetoed at the end of last session as part of a 990-page budget bill.

"We are the only state in the country now, the only one, that did not get all of its money in time for the 2018 election,” Simon said. “Forty-nine states did, we didn't, so we lost a lot of time on some of these projects and we want to get going as soon as possible.”

The bill now heads to the House Ways and Means, the chamber’s top finance committee, before a floor vote. Former Secretary of State and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, is authoring the bill in the Senate.