Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose spoke on YouTube Livestream Friday afternoon to discuss voter turnout and access across the two battleground states in anticipation of the Nov. 3 general election.
As secretary of state, Benson has focused on making elections more accessible and secure. She previously wrote a book, “State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process,” which focused on the secretary of state’s role in holding up election and campaign finance laws.
LaRose has also remained committed to improving the access and security of elections in Ohio. In 2016, he was named Legislator of the Year because of his commitment to improving election processes in Ohio.
Jenna Bednar, professor of political science and public policy at the University of Michigan, moderated the event. Throughout the talk, Benson and LaRose answered questions about serving their two separate constituencies, their personal concerns going into the November election and how they plan to carry out safe and secure elections in their respective states.
The event began with Bednar discussing this election season and expressing her concerns about Election Day, whether it be the outcome of the election or the process.
“The election’s underway,” Bednar said. “We can no longer talk about Election Day, instead it’s an election season and we’re in the midst of it. Everywhere I turn I hear so much worry. People are worried about the outcome of course, but also about the process.”
Bednar then asked how the two have worked to settle constituent concerns about the voting process and whether results will come in a timely manner.
Benson answered the question first, noting how Michigan increased its testing capabilities and securities with better vote tabulation machines and recruited over 30,000 election workers to make sure there is no shortage of poll workers on election day.
“We are very much ready for November,” Benson said. “I’m optimistic and I think it’s important that even in this time of great uncertainty where people are anxious and fearful about so many things, that we let them know that they don’t have to be afraid whether their vote is going to count — it is.”
LaRose said even with the expansion of absentee ballots in Ohio and Michigan, the state is ensuring the security of all votes cast.
“What this tells us is that Ohioans are ready to vote (by mail) and that they trust it,” LaRose said. “The boards of elections are also ready for high volumes of absentee voting … Sometimes errors get made … But certainly that should not decrease the trust that people have in this process, because it really is a good way to cast your ballot.”
The conversation then moved to discussing in-person voting during the COVID-19 pandemic and how each secretary of state plans to make sure it’s safe and efficient.
Benson said Michigan is implementing strict health and sanitation guidelines throughout precincts across the state. The state has tried to provide multiple options to voters given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, she said. State officials are expecting in-person turnout on election day to be about a third of what it was in previous years.
“That means … minimal crowding, minimal lines, if any at all,” Benson said. “We have not had any lines at precincts this year because we’ve been able to ensure people can take advantage of all these other options as well and only vote in-person on election day if that’s the option they choose.”
Benson and LaRose also spoke about initiatives by each state to make sure voters are informed. They detailed their plans to tackle misinformation as election day nears.
Benson assured Michigan voters that they will be able to cast their ballot safely and said voters will also learn about the voting process to inspire greater confidence in casting their ballots.
“I’m proud that we built an infrastructure to ensure that every vote casted will be counted securely,” Benson said. “But that third vector, the one of misinformation … that’s designed to sow seeds of doubt amongst our voters about the truth and integrity of our elections process. That’s the vector that’s the hardest and really where I’m focused right now.”
The conversation ended with each secretary of state noting that even though they were appointed through partisan politics, the ways in which they carry out their duties is non-partisan.
LaRose said it does not matter what his constituents’ party affiliation is and that a secretary of state’s job is just to make sure voters are confident in the system.
“It is the person who holds the office, not the letter that comes after their name, that really matters,” LaRose said. “When we take this oath of office we’re not wearing a red jersey or a blue jersey — we effectively put on the referee stripes. And I think that really around the country we’ve got a lot of very good secretaries of states and other chief elections officials, even those that were elected very clearly on a partisan ticket who do the job in a very non-partisan way.”
Rackham student Derek Dang wrote in a statement that he appreciates Benson and LaRose’s commitment to the safety and accessibility of the election but believes their positions are inherently partisan.
“I was encouraged by their dedication to ensuring a fair election where everyone could have their voices heard,” Dang wrote. “While I understand that they both approach their jobs from a nonpartisan perspective, I feel their political party does play a big role in whether they are elected or not.”
Daily Staff Reporter Julia Forrest can be reached at email@example.com
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