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In preparation for the 2022 midterm election on Nov. 8, The Michigan Daily sat down with incumbent Jocelyn Benson in the secretary of state race to discuss her background, experience and goals for office. Benson will face Kristina Elaine Karamo in November.

Jocelyn Benson

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Michigan Daily: Why did you decide to run for another term as Secretary of State?

Jocelyn Benson: I started my career in Montgomery, Ala. and was really inspired by the work of those who stood on the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. in 1965 to simply ensure that the promise of “one person, one vote” in our constitution was a reality for everyone. And out of that I was inspired to devote my career to ensuring that, no matter where someone lives, or who they vote for, that they can have rightly-placed faith that their voice will be heard and their vote will be counted. And as the state’s chief election officer, we’ve delivered on those promises. We’ve ensured, even at a time when democracy is at a crucial moment in its history, we’ve been able to guarantee smooth elections, secure elections and high-turnout elections, accessible elections for every citizen. 

So I’m proud to be able to continue, hopefully, that leadership because democracy truly is at stake. We’re in the midst of a multifaceted, multi-year effort to make it more difficult for citizens to vote and interfere and intervene with the voting process. And alongside that, lies and misinformation continue to spread. Republicans are seeking to dampen citizens’ faith in their voice and their vote. So now more than ever, I think it’s important for those of us who stood successfully to defend democracy in 2020 and in other moments as well, that we work together to to ensure here in Michigan and across the country, we’re in a place to protect every voice and every vote and continue making our democracy and our government work better for everyone.

TMD: How have your previous experiences qualified you for the position?

JB: We’ve worked over the last four years to really improve how the office operates. We have transformed our customer service side, ensuring that people can do their business with the state more conveniently and efficiently than ever before. We have placed cell service stations and kiosks in grocery stores and increased the number of transactions that are done outside of our branch offices up from 28% in 2018. Now 60% of all transactions are done outside of the office. 

But in addition to that we oversaw the safest, most secure, highest-turnout election in Michigan’s history. In November of 2020, more than 5.5 million Michigan voters cast their ballot, which was significantly higher than ever before. And that milestone was made possible in part by new voter-approved constitutional amendments that gave every citizen, among other things, the right and option to vote from home. 

We also convened the state’s first ever Collegiate Student Advisory Task Force. What that has done is advised our office on how we can ensure these changes are relevant for college students and young people all across our state. Out of the taskforce grew a number of partnerships, including partnerships right at U of M and Michigan State to have voting opportunities from drop boxes to satellite clerks’ offices right on campus. So all of those experiences, overseeing our state’s highest turnout election and transforming how we deliver services for citizens, have delivered real results for every Michigan resident, have demonstrated that this office can effectively serve every citizen, young and old. We hope to have another four years to build on the success and continue increasing turnout, increasing efficiencies of our services for all Michiganders.

TMD: Could you tell me specifically about your election campaign platform and the most important points?

JB: As I mentioned, democracy is on the ballot this fall. And it’s really important that every citizen and every voter know the choice that they will be making in this race is a choice between truth versus lies, and facts versus conspiracy theories, and whether we’re going to have a democracy and a government that works for everyone, or whether we’ll have people in these positions of attorney general, Secretary of State and elsewhere who will put their personal and political agendas ahead of the will of the people. In Michigan, we have demonstrated a track record of delivering results, modernizing our voter registration system, recruiting a new generation of poll workers and ensuring there are drop boxes securely placed all across the state for voters to participate in elections and return their ballot conveniently, safely and securely. 

So all of these changes we want to continue ensuring are available and accessible to everyone. And I’m proud and hopeful that in a second term, we’ll be able do more to deliver governments to the people, including mobile branch offices and mini branch offices and places throughout the state, and continuing, even at a moment when democracy is on the line, ensuring that we’re fighting to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of every citizen.

TMD: Is there anything you want to say to college students at the University of Michigan and also throughout the state?

JB: Certainly, your vote is your voice. And now more than ever, we need to ensure that the decisions that are being made that impact everyone every day are by people at the state level and the federal level and are being made with the input of young people and people with the perspective and experience of college students. So we’ll continue working in my office to open the doors wide to welcome college students’ voices to the table.

But as someone who myself personally first got involved in civic engagement and political work when I was in college, I think it’s critical that college students know that now is the moment in time where they can work and build support for democracy, for their fundamental rights and freedoms that are truly on the line in this election, and ensure they do everything they can to make their voice heard about the issues they care about, and that they are fully informed when they do cast their ballot so they can have a clear impact in protecting our democracy and protecting our rights and freedoms for the future.

Kristina Elaine Karamo did not respond in time for publication.

Daily Staff Reporter Irena Li can be reached at irenayli@umich.edu.