Benson rolls out plan to increase voting access, security

The entrance to the Three Rivers poll station at Riverside Church in August 2020. (Dave Vago|Watershed Voice)

By Allison Donahue, Michigan Advance

Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Monday rolled out a number of election-related initiatives, centered around expanding voter accessibility and strengthening election security. 

“Michigan voters want elections to be accessible, strong and secure. We saw this in 2018 when voters enshrined expanded voting rights in our state constitution, and again in 2020 when record numbers of voters exercised their new rights,” Benson said in a press release. “Our job now is clear: to defend and protect democracy by ensuring that no matter how one votes, who they vote for, where they live, or what they look like, their vote will be counted.”

Benson’s proposed initiatives include requiring absentee ballot applications to be mailed to registered voters every federal election cycle, counting ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received shortly after, establishing early in-person voting, making Election Day a state holiday, allowing overseas service members and spouses to return their ballots electronically, requiring translated election materials in large non-English-speaking communities, providing funds to ensure voting locations are Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant and establish curbside voting and allowing absentee ballots to be processed two weeks prior to Election Day. 

Benson also included a few initiatives that seem to be in direct response to the drama that unfolded during and after the Nov. 3 general election. 

Those initiatives include prohibiting deceptive election practices that deter or mislead voters, prohibiting open carry of firearms within 100 feet of a voting location, mandating training standards for election challengers and election workers and requiring a statewide risk-limiting audit of election results prior to state certification.

Michigan was one of five battleground states that was inundated with baseless claims of widespread election fraud and lawsuits were filed for weeks after the election to try to decertify the results. Former President Donald Trump lost to now-President Joe Biden by over 150,000 votes in Michigan.

The GOP-led Legislature held a series of hearings last year allowing right-wing activists to air grievances and have continued to hold hearings this term. Republicans across the country have introduced dozens of voting restriction bills this term.

Benson is working with Democrats from both the House and Senate to draft and introduce legislation to help enact these voting reform initiatives. The Democrats include state Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth), vice chair of the House Elections and Ethics Committee, and state Sens. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) and Paul Wojno (D-Warren).

“Secretary Benson expressed a desire to work on reforms with legislators on both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, so far, she has only demonstrated an interest in partnering with legislators who happen to be members of her own political party,” said Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton) in a statement Monday.

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