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Exclusive: Interview with Rep. Steve Simon, candidate for MN Secretary of State

The 2013 municipal elections in Minneapolis are over and all the races have finished and their winners announced. Now voters in Minnesota can turn their attention to a new slew of 2014 races, including the contest for Senator Al Franken’s seat and Governor Mark Dayton’s job at the state capitol. Another race that is important for residents who follow election issues is that for Secretary of State. The current officeholder Mark Ritchie has decided not to seek another term, leaving the seat open for contention. One major player who has already thrown his hat in the ring is current State Representative Steve Simon (DFL-46B). Another contender for the office on the GOP side is Dennis Nguyen, who was recently profiled by Politics in Minnesota. Your loyal Examiner has a good relationship with Rep. Simon, interviewing him back in 2010 prior to that year’s midterm elections. Rep. Simon was kind enough to grant another interview to your Examiner regarding his upcoming bid for the MN Secretary of State.

Rep. Simon represents the area around Hopkins, a town he also calls home. He lives there with his wife Leia and their one-year-old daughter Hannah. Rep. Simon’s roots in politics go back for many years. According to his campaign’s biography, Rep. Simon volunteered for the presidential campaigns of Walter Mondale and Paul Simon and served an internship with the Bill Clinton campaign. Rep. Simon has also served as Assistant Attorney General in Minnesota and worked as a lawyer before winning his first term in the State House of Representatives in 2004. Rep. Simon said he has been “in the trenches” on voter issues in the state for many years and has come to understand how “elections underlie” the most important issues facing the state.

Asked why he was running for Secretary of State, Rep. Simon said his primary concerns were “making sure that every vote matters” and that he was “opening doors and not closing them.” He said a major goal was “more, better, and easier voting” for all Minnesota residents. He cited the excellent voting culture in the state and described himself as a “trusted champion for voter rights.”

Regarding some of the issues he hopes to take on if elected, Rep. Simon said an important one was to “maintain and improve ballot access.” He spoke of his work in the state legislature this year on passage of a “No Excuses Absentee Voting” bill, which will be very helpful in ensuring seniors and people far from their polling location are able to vote. He also spoke about his desire to “leverage technology” and to set up “online voter registration.” Rep. Simon also discussed plans to reform the office of Secretary of State to “create a one-stop shop for businesses” to get industry and tax information.

The interview then turned to more specific issues. Asked about his opinion of ranked choice voting in this year’s municipal elections, Rep. Simon first spoke of his authorship of legislation that will allow more Minnesota cities to use RCV in their elections. He said he thought ranked choice voting “worked out well” in Minneapolis, stating that 88% of voters did rank their favorite candidates by number. Asked what the state could do to improve the system, Rep. Simon said “more standardization” could help for other cities that wanted to try it.

The next question dealt with one of the constitutional amendments on the ballot for Minnesotans in 2012: the Voter ID amendment. Your Examiner does not pretend to be neutral on this issue, having penned an editorial decrying the amendment, but wanted to get Rep. Simon’s opinion on the matter. He said flat out that “Minnesota really dodged a bullet” in 2012, saying that the proposed amendment would have been the most restrictive of all the states. Rep. Simon referenced his many debates with then-State Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer over the amendment and said the entire issue helped him understand “what arguments were not compelling” about the legislation.

The next question queried the candidate on current Secretary of State Ritchie’s tenure and what Rep. Simon would bring to the table that was different. He said Sec. Ritchie did a “wonderful job under very difficult circumstances,” including two major recounts. He also praised Secretary Ritchie’s “emphasis on technology” during his time in office. Rep. Simon did add that since he comes from the state legislature he brings a different experience, including that of having to sell other members of the statehouse on policy.

The final question concerned Rep. Simon’s outlook on voting in Minnesota in 2014 and beyond. He said that he thinks the state will “continue to be among the top states in the country when it comes to voting” and spoke of the high trust people of the state have in their election system. He briefly mentioned his hope, if elected, to implement an early voting system as well.

State Representative Steve Simon (DFL - 46B) is running for the office of Minnesota Secretary of State in 2014.