Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said Tuesday that a worker in his office erroneously linked a partisan website to the state's online tool that helps voters locate their polling places.
In what he called "a serious lapse of judgment," Simon said that after encountering capacity problems on the official website, some voters were temporarily redirected to the web page of BoldProgressives.org, an organization that has backed Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. He said the link was active for about 17 minutes.
"That's 17 minutes too many, obviously, but it was a contained problem, minimal exposure and by minute 18, we got to it," Simon said in an interview late Tuesday evening, adding that his office had no evidence that Minnesota's voting systems were hacked or otherwise interfered with on Tuesday.
Simon described the staffer as a civil servant in his IT department and said "there was zero political motivation" behind the mistake. In response, Simon said all external websites his office redirects must now be on a preapproved "whitelist" of sites and that at least two employees must approve.
Simon abruptly canceled plans to testify Tuesday before the Senate's state government and elections committee, where lawmakers were expected to question him about it.
Committee chairwoman Mary Kiffmeyer, a Big Lake Republican and former secretary of state, questioned the failure of a "tried and true system that has been around for a long time and has functioned at very high volumes of traffic."
"Secretary Simon says it's all hands on deck to address this issue," she said. "If it's all hands on deck, he should be here to answer our questions."
Simon said Tuesday that he planned to testify in front of two House committees early Wednesday and a Senate committee that afternoon.
It was unclear what prompted the heavy traffic on the state's online poll finder, although there were reports of similar problems in California and Texas, the two largest of the 14 Super Tuesday states.
Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said the pattern has fueled suspicion of malicious efforts to overwhelm the websites — or worse. "I think there is a larger issue around what's happening around the country with attempts by some … outside actors to infiltrate election systems," he said.
Shortly after the polls opened in the morning, the state's polling place finder web page informed voters that "due to heavy demand, you may be directed to a trusted external site to find your polling place information."
That site is supposed to be the nonpartisan Voting Information Project, a partnership of Democracy Works and the states to provide information about where to vote and what's on the ballots.
But an unknown number of voters were sent to BoldProgressives.org instead. Maria Langholz of BoldProgressives said she was not aware of the redirected inquiries to her group's web page. She said the group has no partnership with the Secretary of State's Office.
"I have no idea how they chose us," Langholz said. "It's a question for them, not us."
Warren spokesman Jason Noble said her campaign "has no knowledge of this."
Politics editor Kevin Diaz contributed to this report.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755