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Interview with Mr. Steve Simon (Secretary of State, Minnesota)

தமிழில் படிக்க இங்கே சொடுக்கவும்

Prabhu: Good Morning Mr. Simon. How are you? 

Steve:  Hi! How are you?

Prabhu:  Thank you! Thanks for allocating time for us. 

Steve:  Sure!

Prabhu: So, we are a Tamil magazine where we have a lot of readers across the U.S. but we are headquartered in Minnesota. So, we wanted to have some information about all these things happening and thanks for accommodating us. Now, economy-wise, I know it’s going up and down. From Minnesota, how are the registrations for new businesses or the startups? How is it going so far?

Steve: So I just checked on this a couple of days ago and was surprised in a good way they are steady and stable. You might have expected during COVID-19 to be a massive decrease or a massive fall but that has not been the case. They have been, I would say, pretty steady and pretty stable across different classes of business files. So that is a good sign, I hope, that we we will get through this okay, the economic plate. And when I say that I don’t mean to minimize the real pain that a lot of people are feeling, I just mean that overall, there are some signs to be hopeful [at] the end of this.

Prabhu: Oh, that’s very good news! So in the context of this corona pandemic, right, so what are the different safety precautions that you are planning to enforce for the voters who are planning to come and vote? Is there like the guidelines or is there something-

Steve: Yes.

Prabhu: Okay. 

Steve: I would say two main things. First, I am encouraging all Minnesota voters to consider voting from home this year. This is a law that we’ve had for a number of years, it’s not new. Anyone who is eligible to vote can go to the website in Minnesota. The website is MNvotes.org, that’s M N V O T E S dot org. And if you go to MNvotes.org, in under five minutes you can order the ballot to be mailed to you at home, which is a huge convenience. You can vote over the course of days or weeks, on your couch, at your breakfast table, wherever but there’s another advantage to that, which is this year, I think voting from home is a public service. Every person that votes from home this year is making the polling place safer for the people who do choose to show up in person at the polling place, and that leads me to the second major precaution we’re taking. We understand that not everyone wants to vote from home, although I do recommend that people consider that… who want to show up on Election Day and vote: we will have precautions at the polling places on Election Day. For example, our office will supply all 3,000 polling places in Minnesota with masks and not only for the poll workers and election judges but for voters who show up without one. We will have hand sanitizers and pumps, we will have wipes, we will have protocols for wiping down the polling place stations for the place where people sign their name, for the use of pens, will have social distancing, so I want to assure people that we will make that polling place as safe as it can be. But my recommendation, as an added precaution, would be that you don’t need to go to a polling place. You can order the ballot to come to you at home and simply vote that way, and then send it back by mail or drop it off in person, no matter what you want.

Prabhu: Oh okay, that’s awesome. So coming back to the poll workers, they are the frontline workers, right? 

Steve: Right. 

Prabhu: So, what precautions do they have to maintain, like other than the social distancing and the masks that you said you will provide and wiping down all the…

Steve: Right.

Prabhu: All the bottles and pins and stuff like that, but do they get any extra insurance or stuff, like the big glass mask or the ones that…?

Steve: Yeah. So, our office is supplying the materials and the supplies that I mentioned, the masks for both the judges and for the voters, the hand sanitizers, the wipes, and so forth. But many jurisdictions are providing additional materials and supplies through some federal money that our office is distributing to all the polling places. So what we are providing from our office centrally is only a floor, not a ceiling, so to speak.

Prabhu: Okay.

Steve: Any other jurisdictions that are doing other things, for example: many jurisdictions, at least they tell us, are planning to have plastic shields of the kind that you’re now seeing in grocery stores or retail operations, sort of a plexiglass plastic shield, and that’s good [for] both the voters and the election judges so some of them are doing that. That’s one example of those local jurisdictions going above and beyond, and if any of your viewers have any question about that, they should call their own city, their own City Hall, and ask what special precautions. But I just want to emphasize again, as I’ve been doing, that you don’t even have to go to a polling place. MNvotes.org if you’re from Minnesota, you can order the ballot to come to you and vote from the comfort of your own home.

Prabhu: So, for the timing wise, so let’s say… what is the time frame? If I do it today, if I go to MNvotes.org and register myself, when will I get the ballot and when I have to mail it by?

Steve: Sure. Well, as of today, this is the first day of absentee voting for the state primary election on August 11th. So if you ordered it today, it would come within a few days and as long as it’s postmarked by Election Day for the primary. But it has to arrive two days after, so my recommendation, just to be safe, is not to wait till Election Day to mail it. My recommendation is to mail it a few days earlier so that it arrives two days after the election. For the November election, for which there is a lot more interest, let’s face it – it’s the presidential election, it’s high stakes – for that election, the absentee period starts on September 18th, September 18th. So if you order your ballot now for that contest, you are likely to get it on or around September 18th, then you can start voting that day. 

Prabhu: Nice, okay. That is very good information for our viewers, definitely. So, the turnout wise, what is the field that you have for this election, and are we prepared for both mail-in as well as in-person voting from a turnout wise, what’s your prediction?

Steve: Well for the last two elections in 2018 and 2016, Minnesota was number one in the country for voter turnout. I expect us to be very, very high again. In the last presidential election, we were at 74.7%, so just under… voters, which was number one in America. Hard to say what the actual number will be, but if we’re not number one – I hope we will be – we’ll be on three top states. Minnesotans take voting very seriously. We have laws that tend to encourage voting and protect voters, and I think that’s a good thing. So I’m expecting, given everything that’s going on and the intensity behind the presidential contest on all sides, I think it’s a recipe for a very high turnout election in Minnesota.

In terms of preparedness, you raise a very important issue. I’m expecting a lot more people to vote by mail this year, which on the one hand, is good because it relieves pressure on the polling places. If you have fewer voters there, that’s fewer opportunities for something to potentially be held up or go wrong. But there are some challenges with voting by mail as well from an administrative standpoint. And that’s why one of the reasons that I’m encouraging people – one of the things I’m encouraging people to do –  is if you’re interested in potentially voting from home, don’t wait until October. Do it now. Do it this summer. Go to MNvotes.org and do it now. So we are trying to play a role to manage that spike in demand that we’re already seeing: really, really big numbers, really big numbers of people already asking, which is good. But we don’t want it all to fall on the last minute in October, because [that] can overwhelm the system. If people can do it in June, in July, in August, and order it now, and I should tell your viewers: you can reverse that decision. If you order a ballot now and then you later decide, “You know what? Things are safer and cleaner and better than I thought they would be in October or November and I want to go in in person Election Day and I no longer want to vote from home”. That’s okay! You can reverse your decision, that’s okay. So you don’t feel as if you make the decision now and you can never change your mind, you can change your mind.

Prabhu: Nice, okay. So, the voters have that option but the staff does not, right? So they have to be there. So how is the morale among the staff? Because they are now put into something that they are…

Steve: Yes.

Prabhu: So how is the morale among the workers?

Steve: Yes. Well, let me tell you. It takes thirty thousand election judges, or poll workers, as they’re called, to run an election in Minnesota, thirty thousand. And typically, that has not been a problem, getting people to do that job. But this year, I suspect there may be some challenges, for the obvious reasons that you’re implying. And particularly since a large portion of our election judges are seniors or retirees, and some think that they may be a little extra vulnerable and they may want to not want to do that job this year, so we have to replenish their ranks.

And in order to recruit people to do that job, there are two things that we’re emphasizing. 

Number one, we’re working to get the numbers down of people in the polling place by inviting people to vote from home. So we’re pretty confident that a much lower number of people will be circulating in those spaces. Number two, we will have the supplies in place, between the supplies that our office is providing and that other local governments are adding to, we feel very comfortable in saying that the polling place will be as safe and as secure as it can be. And some of those two things hopefully will encourage people to do that job. And I have to emphasize for your viewers that in Minnesota, that that is a paid position. A lot of people think it’s a volunteer job, it’s not. It is a paid position: it only requires two hours of training, so that’s not a particularly heavy lift. Two hours some time before Election Day and it’s paid. And we’ll have the supplies there and we’ll make it as [safe as possible].

Prabhu: Cool, thanks, thanks for the information. So there is another thing going in parallel too, with some civil unrest going on after the death of Mr. George Floyd. So is there any security – not necessarily about the COVID now – but is there any security precautions are you planning around the polling booth, for both for staff as well as for those who decide to show up in person rather than…

Steve: Yes, well, part of the challenge there is, under state law, law enforcement cannot be in and around a polling place. That is a law that’s been in Minnesota for many, many, many years, and the thought there is: you also don’t want to intimidate certain voters either. So if there’s an incident of some kind, any year at a polling place, then law enforcement can be called in, that’s of course true. But in the absence of an incident, you can’t have police or military or anyone else at a polling place in Minnesota. So, I’m confident we have not typically had a problem in Minnesota with that kind of security at the polling place. I don’t anticipate that this year, particularly because I think the message to many people who are engaged in peaceful protest is election [is] one way to get the outcomes that you want. So you shouldn’t want to interfere with an election if you want certain outcomes, public policy outcomes. So it would be self-defeating to somehow interfere with a polling place. I think that message is getting across. 

Prabhu: Okay. That’s nice. So, I mean, I think you gave us a lot of information and thanks for that, but on a personal level, how much travel that you have to make and what are the precautions that you have to take? Because work from home might not be an option always for all kinds of work, right?

Steve: Right, yeah. So for me personally, I will tell you, I – typically before COVID-19 – was a very active traveler around the state. In fact, I’m proud of the fact that every year that I’ve had this job, I visit all 87 Minnesota counties, and I’m proud of that. But this year, I’m not going to be able to do that. And so, I’m relying as much as I can on virtual meetings and conversations like this one. And so my personal movement has been really limited in terms of going even to the office, certainly in terms of going around the state, and so that has really changed things. It certainly opened my eyes, and I think a lot of people’s eyes, in terms of the future of the workforce, or over the workplace, I should say, the workplace. And so we’re doing the best that we can as an office to remain a team, even though we’re not always physically in front of one another, and that’s a challenge that a lot of people face right now. 

Prabhu: So, if you want to put a percentage, because with a lot of changes going on both for pandemic and… is there any chance of the election getting postponed at all or is it at still zero? 

Steve: I would say it is very close to zero. For there to be a postponement of an election, particularly a federal election for president of the United States, it would take an amendment in Congress, and I don’t think it’s going to happen. So you hear once in a while threats or rumors that the elections would be postponed… I think that is almost zero chance of that happening. So we need to devote our time and energy to the election we know is happening on November 3rd, and that’s what we’re doing. 

Prabhu: Thank you. I think that’s all the questions I had for you. Thanks, thank you for your time.

Steve: Okay. Thank you, I appreciate it. 

Prabhu: Yep, and please send our thanks to Risikat too. 

Steve: Oh yes, yes she’s great. And any time between now and the election, if you want me to come back, I’m happy to do that.

Prabhu: Yes, that’s the one more… yeah, so if my viewers asked for more questions and stuff like that, I will reach out through you guys to get that.

Steve: Oh yes. Please, I’m happy to do it, happy to do it.

Prabhu: Thank you, thanks again.

Steve: Thank you so much! Bye.

Prabhu: Bye.

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