In the wake of the November general election — after which former President Donald Trump’s legal team filed several lawsuits citing baseless claims of voter fraud — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a frequent critic of Trump, rolled out a list of initiatives Feb. 1 to help “advance the vote” and make future elections more accessible for voters.
Benson’s initiatives propose several new state election requirements. The proposal would mandate that absentee ballot applications are mailed to registered voters and would require ballots to be postmarked by Election Day and counted shortly thereafter.
Benson’s initiatives also seek to improve the accessibility of voting for all Michiganders. She is proposing establishing early in-person voting, making Election Day a state holiday, allowing overseas service members to return ballots electronically, providing translated election materials and ensuring voting locations are compliant with the American Disabilities Act.
Additionally, Benson’s initiatives include several measures designed to protect the integrity of future elections. She aims to allow absentee ballots to be processed two weeks prior to Election Day, prohibit deceptive election practices that deter or mislead voters and prohibit the open carry of firearms within 100 feet of a voting location. Benson is also proposing mandatory training for election challengers and election workers in addition to a statewide results audit before state certification.
Benson introduced these initiatives in a press release last Monday, the first day of Black History Month, to pay tribute to the many Black Americans whose sacrifice helped bring voting rights to all citizens.
“Michigan voters want elections to be accessible, strong and secure,” the statement reads. “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 she sees it as her responsibility to protect and defend democracy through making voting more accessible.
“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,” the statement reads.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Aneta Kiersnowski, Michigan Department of State spokesperson, said Benson is “optimistic and ready to work across the aisle to implement these changes” leading into the upcoming midterm elections.
“The items in this agenda are nonpartisan, common sense proposals based on data and trends from last year’s elections, national best practices, expertise from elections clerks and the clear will voters demonstrated in 2018 when they enshrined expanded voting rights in our state’s constitution and in 2020 when millions then exercised those rights,” Kierdnowski said.
Kiersnowski said Benson’s new initiatives are expected to “start a conversation” among legislators and local clerks to improve accessibility for voters in Michigan’s elections.
“This agenda is based on the fact that Michigan voters have repeatedly made clear that they want our elections to continue to be accessible, strong and secure,” Keirdnowski said. “It includes updates that have been needed since voters amended the constitution in 2018, such as the provision of time to process absentee ballots before Election Day, and improvements that ensure equal access for all voters, such as mailing absentee applications to all voters.”
LSA sophomore Julia Schettenhelm, communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, spoke in support of the initiatives and praised the focus on accessibility and election security.
“We believe that these measures will increase access to elections for Michigan voters, while still being secure,” Schettenhelm said. “We also hope that this legislation will be a bipartisan effort.”
LSA junior Ryan Fisher, current chairman of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, echoed Schttenhelm’s emphasis on bipartisanship. Fisher expressed support for initiatives including mailing absentee ballots, allowing clerks more time to process ballots, establishing early in-person voting and a statewide audit of results as long as “proper bipartisan procedure” is in place.
Fisher said College Republicans disagree with the initiatives to count ballots received shortly after the polls close and to make Election Day a holiday.
“We should not allow ballots to be valid when they are received after polls close,” Fisher said. “Postmarking aside, they should be received by the end of election day to count.”
According to Kierdnowski, in the general election, nearly 10,000 ballots were rejected because they arrived late. She noted that “everyone who votes by mail deserves that their vote will be counted,” regardless of the state of the United States Postal Service.
“If we allow tax filings to be postmarked on tax day, ballots should be counted if mailed on Election Day,” Keirdnowski said.
In collaboration with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Benson is also calling for the disbarment of four attorneys who pushed the narrative of widespread election fraud in legal proceedings last year.
Nessel filed motions for sanctions in federal court against the three Michigan attorneys, Greg Rohl, Scott Hagerstrom and Stefanie Junttila, along with Texas attorney Sidney Powell. This motion asks that the attorneys be disbarred and lose their privilege to practice law in their respective states due to their unevidenced claims of election fraud.
Similar lawsuits surrounding these baseless claims of fraud were filed in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona late last year and all failed.
In a statement Monday, Nessel emphasized the need for disbarment of the four attorneys citing their actions which worked to disenfranchise voters and public faith in the electoral process.
“They violated their oath and the ethical rules to which they are bound, abused the court system, and compromised the administration of justice — an important foundation of our civil society and the very bulwark of our democratic institutions. Anything short of disbarment would be an injustice to the American people,” the statement reads.
In the same press release, Benson called the November election the “most secure in (the) nation’s history” and said attorneys abused their authority by filing “frivolous” lawsuits.
“They must be held accountable for this unprecedented attack on our democracy and prevented from replicating such harm in the future,” Benson said.
Daily Staff Reporter Sarah Payne can be reached at email@example.com.
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