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Securing Our Elections

A Conversation with Michigan’s Secretary of State 

By Rick Haglund 

The way America votes is radically changing in cities and states around the country. Innovative methods of voting are impacting elections, from ranked choice voting in Maine to top-two primaries in California, changing the way voters select candidates for the purpose of reducing the role of political parties in elections and increasing the potential for more moderate candidates to be elected. The Detroiter spoke with Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to get her views on election reforms and security as the 2020 presidential election moves closer.

What is your view of ranked choice voting? Do you think it would be a good idea for Michigan?    

JB: Well, there certainly seems to be an interest in some parts of the state at the local level in exploring that reform. I think Ferndale and a couple of other localities are looking at it. But there’s not a whole lot of data that ranked choice voting increases turnout. There’s not a whole lot of data, at least that I’ve seen, that voters throughout the state want to see this reform in place. But I think if I saw that data, in either regard, then I would be inclined to see it as a good thing for Michigan.    

What are your thoughts on open primaries?    

JB: I think looking at states like California, it does potentially help in a district or a state that typically leans towards one party or the other. It’s not clear to me whether or not [Michigan] voters would see this as a convenient reform. It certainly has worked in other states and has been embraced in other states like California and Louisiana.   

What measures are you taking to address concerns about election security in the upcoming 2020 presidential election?  

JB: We’ve taken the issue of election security extremely seriously. I created a task force on election security, the first of our kind in Michigan, bringing together experts from around the country from the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere to advise us on what we need to do in Michigan, and what we can do in order to be at the top level of secure elections. [And] we’ve hired the state’s first-ever director of election security.    

What more do we need to do to increase transparency, ethics, and accountability in our election process?    

JB: Well, certainly Michigan has been consistently ranked last by the Center for Public Integrity for our ethics and transparency laws. One, we don’t require our lawmakers to disclose their personal finances, so we can’t ascertain as the public – or as the electorate – as to whether or not our representatives are financially benefiting from the votes they take or being financially incentivized to make certain votes. Number two, we need to expand the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to cover the governor and the legislature so that, again, citizens have access to basic information about the decisions being made that affect them every day. Then, I do think we need to reform our lobbying rules to ensure more transparency. 

Rick Haglund is a former reporter and business columnist for Booth Newspapers, now the MLive Media Group. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.