Bemidji -- In keeping with a core piece of his 2018 re-election platform, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon is focused on maintaining the security of polling places in 2020.

Over the past year, Simon's office has directed millions of dollars toward election security procedures and on Thursday, he visited Beltrami County Auditor JoDee Treat to get insight on how 2020 looks for local governments. The visit was part of an annual tour Simon has done since taking office.

"Every year, I visit all 87 counties and so far I've made it to 58," Simon told the Pioneer. "The stops vary, depending on the three areas of our office, from elections to business registration services and our Safe at Home address confidentiality program we run."

Thursday's visit was two-fold for Simon, as he also met with Walker business leaders to discuss economic development after his stop in Bemidji.

The top priority for his office, though, remains shoring up the state's election integrity ahead of a presidential election year. In doing so, Simon said there are two types of interference his office most has to work against.

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"One is the infrastructure piece," Simon said. "Making sure our databases and polling places are safe. Then there's the other piece, regarding misinformation and disinformation. Flooding our social media to pit Americans against each other."

In 2016, Minnesota was one of 21 states identified as a target for election interference, he said.

"Intelligence authorities have given us briefings, letting us know what happened," Simon said. "The good news is nothing bad did happen. But, election security is a race without a finish line, you have to stay ahead of the bad guys."

To stay ahead of those who would interfere, the Legislature authorized $6.6 million in federal funding for the office to invest in election security. Before the funding was approved, Simon said his office made a head start with a work group of representatives from both major parties, cyber security professionals, as well as officials from cities, counties and townships.

"The key thing we're doing is re-coding and re-securing our statewide voter registration database," Simon said. "Ours was built in 2004, and built well. But like a lot of things built in 2004, it's behind the times. That alone is about $1.3 million."

Simon said his office is also using the funds on a cyber navigator who will work as a partner with government units on local election security issues.

"This is crucial," Simon said. "We're all in this together, because it's the cities, counties and townships that count the votes, buy the equipment and hire the judges."

While Simon has been in the role since winning the 2014 election, though, his office is less familiar with Minnesota's new presidential primary coming up in March 2020, as the state previously held caucuses.

"We're all on the dock jumping into the lake at the same time. It's new for all of us," Simon said. "There are a lot of questions. It's in winter, so will all the election judges be here, or are they snow birds? It's also happening at a busy time for auditors who are doing their tax work."

One area where Simon said early progress was made was in financially helping local governments with the costs.

"It would otherwise be a hit for them to be holding the bag financially," Simon said. "To their credit, in a bipartisan way, the Legislature committed to reimbursing local governments. The fact is there are townships that sometimes don't plow or winterize their town halls, so that has to be paid for."

Minnesota's presidential primary will take place on March 3, 2020, which has been dubbed "Super Tuesday." The state shares the primary date with Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.

Minnesota will still have a primary on Aug. 11 for city, county and statewide races, followed by the general election on Nov. 3, 2020.