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Voting law is Simon’s passion

Steve Simon has been in the Minnesota Legislature for 10 years, and successfully shepherded through several major, bipartisan improvements to voting law, but his role model is someone who has been out of politics for 15 years — Joan Growe, who served as Minnesota secretary of state from 1975 to 1999 and was widely respected for her fairness and competence.

“Elections are kind of my thing,” he said in an interview.

“I’ve been passionate about the issue for the past 10 years.”

Simon is the DFL-endorsed candidate for Secretary of State.

If he wins, he will replace DFLer Mark Ritchie, who opted not to run.

Simon comes off as bright, articulate and passionate about election law.

As chair of the House Elections Committee, he wrote the new “no-excuse” absentee voting law, and the new law guaranteeing the ability to register to vote online.

He prides himself on working with both parties on election law, something that comes to him by nature, and was also forced on him by Gov. Mark Dayton’s insistence that any changes to state election law have strong bipartisan support.

“I understand where he (Dayton) is coming from,” Simon said. “He doesn’t believe it’s fair for one party to run the table, even if it’s his own party. But it might be better to strongly encourage (rather than require) bipartisan support.”

Simon grew up in Hopkins and St. Louis Park, the same community he now represents in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

He has written a major anti-fraud law, as well as a landmark law that expands the statute of limitations so that victims of childhood sexual abuse can seek justice for their abusers.

Simon would like to see Minnesota adopt early voting to go along with its newly relaxed absentee voting law.

Under early voting, people can start voting at regular polling places (with smaller staffs) two weeks before an election.

“Minnesota is one of 17 states that does not have early voting,” he said.

It’s different than absentee voting, in that early votes count right away, while “absentee votes are not opened or counted until Election Day.”

“I’d like to see Minnesota have both early voting and absentee voting,” he added.

Absentee ballots are necessary, especially for those in the military, who need 46 days prior to an election to request a ballot, receive one, fill it out and ship it back in time.

“Ballot access is the bottom line to me,” Simon said.

“That really is the core of the office. For eligible voters, it ought to be as easy as possible to vote.”

Those who say Minnesota’s election system is broken or corrupt are simply wrong, he said, pointing to the state’s historically high voter turnout, the best in the nation.

“Minnesota has one of the most honest, clean election systems in the country, and we’re much-copied and much-envied by the rest of the country,” he said.

What is called fraud usually turns out to be a simple mistake, he said. Hennepin County, for example, recently discovered 147 people whose voter registration address was a post office box, which is not legal in Minnesota.

Investigators looked into it and found that change of address forms from a mailing center had been included on voter registration rolls. There was no intent to commit fraud.

Also, no fraud was found in the Al Franken-Norm Coleman race or recount process.

Both the Minnesota Supreme Court and Coleman’s team of attorneys looked very closely into the matter, Simon said.

Ritchie, the current secretary of state, has been criticized for acting arbitrarily on election matters, like instituting online registration without legislative approval.

He was shot down by the judicial system on that issue, then the Legislature turned around and approved it, in a bipartisan effort spearheaded by Simon.

“Me and Ritchie come from different backgrounds,” Simon says. “I come from the Legislature.

“I’ve been there 10 years. I have a particular interest in working with the Legislature across party lines, and I’ve demonstrated the ability to get really big reforms done.”

County recorders are angry about a move by Ritchie to end their status as satellite offices of the secretary of state, for Uniform Commercial Code purposes, for example.

“I’ve heard it loud and clear from county officials,” and some customers who use the county offices, Simon said. “I’ve also heard from people who think it’s streamlining and reform.

“I won’t commit one way or the other at this point.”

His literature, however, says one of his goals is to “streamline business services.”

When it comes to overseeing elections and recounts, there is no place for political partisanship in the secretary of state’s office, he said.

“Maybe uniquely of all state offices, it is one where voters expect whoever holds the office is not going to put their thumb on the scale,” he said.

“There is an expectation that whoever holds this position not be a table-pounding partisan … there’s more of an expectation that the person will be an honest broker and be procedurally fair.”

Simon said he will meet those expectations if elected, even when election laws are passed that he does not agree with.

“I will, of course, enforce the law,” he said.

“I’ve practiced the art of working with people I don’t agree with, I would hope I at least had some input on those laws. If not, my constitutional duty will be to enforce them.”

Simon has won some high praise for his legislative work, according to his website:

The Politics in Minnesota Newsletter wrote that he “deserves a badge of political courage,” and that “in an era when political jockeying and gamesmanship are the norm, Simon’s work is notable.”

The Star Tribune named Steve as one of a handful of legislators who “did some truly courageous things.”