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House panel considers allowing MN secretary of state to use federal election safety funds without legislative approval

Attorney fees and federal funds make up a $938,000 funding bill for the Office of the Secretary of State.

And a policy change would make it easier to spend some of those dollars.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley), HF1723 was approved Tuesday by the House State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee. Its next stop is the House Ways and Means Committee.

Under current law, a direct legislative appropriation is required to use federal Help America Vote Act dollars to improve election security and enhance election-related technology. In all other states, the federal dollars go directly to elections officials.

Secretary of State Steve Simon (House Photography file photo)

“We are unique among states, and we’ve shown it doesn’t work very well,” Freiberg said.

This bill would eliminate the legislative requirement, instead sending the money directly to the Office of the Secretary of State. It would also allocate $461,000 from the General Fund in fiscal year 2024 to meet a 20% state match to receive more than $2.3 million in federal funds.

Freiberg noted in the past few years these federal funds have been used as leverage in legislative negotiations on issues unrelated to election security. “We should trust our elections administrators to use the funds prudently.”

As for the other $477,000 in the bill?

The onetime — some would say once-a-decade — request in fiscal year 2023 is to pay court-ordered attorney’s fees and costs to several plaintiffs involved in litigation that led to a Special Redistricting Panel creation in 2021 and the set of district boundaries order by that panel in 2022.

Federal law permits plaintiffs to seek such monies for redistricting litigation. Paying it in the current fiscal year is expected to save the state at least $10,000 in interest instead of waiting until the next biennium that begins July 1, 2023.

Both expenses are in the governor’s budget recommendations.

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