Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroit Policy Conference > Jocelyn Benson: The State of Democracy in Michigan

Jocelyn Benson: The State of Democracy in Michigan

July 14, 2021

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson took the stage at the 2021 Detroit Policy Conference to discuss the state of democracy in Michigan and the importance of maintaining the integrity and protection of our state and country’s democratic processes. She reflected on the successes of the 2020 election and outlined the challenges that lie ahead.

Citing a Detroit Regional Chamber statement, she noted that the 2020 election was the most secure, accessible, accurate election in the state’s history. As weighty as that statement may seem, it’s rooted in metrics: high turnout, efficient and accurate tabulation, and the people’s commitment to ensuring integrity.

“Democracy prevailed in 2020, not just because so many people participated in it, but because so many people worked together to protect it as well,” said Benson. “From the moment in March when we knew the pandemic was going to change how people wanted to vote, to give people certainty and clarity that they could vote, that Democracy would go forward, to give citizens the knowledge of how to receive and return their ballots remotely – that was the work of thousands of election workers, 1,600 clerks, and our staff all around the state leading up to election day. But the numbers reflect that our work was successful.”

This is illustrated in how turnout and absentee volume demonstrated that misinformation attempts failed, all ballots were securely counted within 24 hours of polls closing, and how people stepped up to protect the integrity of the process.

Post-Election Challenges

Benson cited three main factors that created issues after the election: efforts to deceive voters, enacting of legislation to “respond” to misinformation, and the changing of tabulation and certification rules.

“We’ve got to start working from the same set of facts,” said Benson.

Ongoing calls for audits of the election results are setting us back according to Benson and undermining the success seen in the election process. Michigan has done more than 250 audits led by worn election officials on both sides of the aisle in a way that was transparent and followed secure protocols with the intent to build faith and improve processes.

“We’re not going to entertain efforts to access election materials with more nefarious intentions, which is what we’ve seen play out in other states,” said Benson.

Further, Benson noted a lot of talk around the importance of identifying voters to secure our democracy – which, she mentioned, is true to ensure security protocols are in place. She emphasized that voter identification requirements are already in place for all voters to protect the integrity of the process without unnecessarily risking the disenfranchisement of citizens.

“We have to ensure that every eligible citizen has access to their fundamental right to vote,” said Benson. “We can do both if we follow facts and data and not allow partisan efforts to undermine that work.”

What Comes Next: Businesses’ Role

Businesses can encourage bipartisan collaboration to identify improvements rooted in data, facts, and truth, and support election workers in ensuring that every valid vote is counted and that rules are in place that will be clear to voters so that they know their options to engage in an informed way. They should act as solutions-oriented truth-tellers.

“Our democracy can be secure and accessible for all. It doesn’t have to be a partisan battle. It doesn’t have to be agenda-driven. It can simply be a data-driven, solutions-oriented conversation about how to take what’s working, replicate it, fix things that we want to improve, but work together in doing so with an eye toward what’s best for every voter in the state,” said Benson. “The business community can lead us in that direction.”

WDIV-TV 4, NBC anchor Devin Scillian later joined the conversation for a one-on-one with the secretary of state.

During their discussion, Benson expressed disappointment in leaders who actively shared misinformation and mislead constituents, undermining the integrity of the democratic process.

“They [citizens] deserve to know the truth,” she said. “The truth is on the side of democracy and fair elections.”

On the security of absentee voting, Benson stated that voters should get to decide how they want to vote and what they need to vote. Voters should be met where they are, and leaders should pursue voter-driven policy approaches rooted in data and how security protocols work. Voters having options is a good model and ensures democracy works for everyone.

Scillian also asked about sanctions being imposed against attorneys who have helped lead lawsuits aimed at discrediting proven election results. Benson said it is antidemocratic to see people profiting off of lying to citizens about their rights. She asserted that consequences are necessary to prevent the continuation of these behaviors.

At the Branch Level

Benson shared that the Secretary of State office has opened more branches and is doing more services out of offices than ever before to streamline processes. A challenge she faces is that offices and staff have been cut in half over the past 20 years, so improvements are being made to the best possible extent allowed by funding and resources.

As part of improvements she’s hoping to make to improve ease and accessibility of services, Benson is working toward creating mobile branches to get into communities and bring services directly to citizens.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” she said. “It’s decades of disinvestment and neglect that we’re working to overcome.”

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