July 21, 2024 3:16 am

Local News

Ahead of 2024 election, Benson and local officials discuss voting changes and misinformation



“The next eight months are going to define the future of our country,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said on Friday in Detroit. 

“And the actions we take in the next eight months will define not just the future of our country, but in my view, the strength of our democracy moving forward,” Benson continued, noting that the work to expand voting access in Michigan could serve as a driving factor in how democracy is defined in the U.S. 

The Democrat was one of several Michigan election officials who spoke at an event at Wayne State University Law School held by The American Bar Association Task Force for American Democracy which centered on efforts to promote trust in elections and civics during the 2024 election cycle. 

In her speech, Benson highlighted key elements for successfully implementing changes to the election system enacted by voters in 2018 and 2022, focusing on building the infrastructure for elections, educating voters on their rights and how to exercise them, and countering lies and misinformation about elections. 

“Here in Michigan, we have undergone a great transformation over the last several years in our democracy. And the infrastructure of our elections has, in my view, never been stronger,” Benson said. 

In the 2018 election, Michigan voters approved Proposal 3, which amended the state constitution to guarantee automatic voter registration, no reason absentee voting, straight-party voting, and same-day voter registration, among other provisions. 

In 2022, voters approved Proposal 2, which included provisions like nine days of early voting, allowing voters to file to vote absentee in all elections, allowing voters to verify their identity at the polls with a photo ID or a signed affidavit, requiring military and overseas ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by election day, and requiring state-funded absentee-ballot drop boxes, and postage for absentee applications and ballots. 

When implementing new measures like early voting, Benson said it’s important to build out the system, create the infrastructure, and push to ensure election clerks are receiving the funding they need to cover the costs of enacting these changes, such as hiring additional staff and renting additional sites to support nine days of early voting. 

Benson also noted the need for positive and proactive education for voters, to ensure they know as much as they would like to know about the security of the election system. 

In Michigan’s decentralized election system, the state’s 83 counties and 1520 local jurisdictions play different roles in ensuring voters’ needs are met. However, because of that setup, election officials have a responsibility to make sure citizens know the rules, regulations and security measures in place, Benson said. This proactive education is key to countering misinformation about the security of elections, she said. 

“The biggest threat to election security in this cycle is misinformation, is disinformation, is lies and deceptive tactics that will be turbocharged through the use of artificial intelligence,” Benson said, projecting that U.S. adversaries like Russia, China and Iran will have greater incentives than ever before to meddle in U.S. elections, particularly in battleground states like Michigan. 

Alongside Benson’s speech, Executive Director and Founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research David Becker hosted a panel with four Michigan election experts, breaking down the evolution of Michigan’s voting policies and responses to distrust of the election process. 

“For more than three years, there has still not been a shred of evidence presented to any court anywhere in this country that would cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election. That doesn’t mean people don’t make claims on social media, but every time it comes to presenting in court they back away,” Becker said. 

“When I think about the people who ran that election I think we should’ve thrown them a parade.They somehow pulled off this moonshot of American democracy in the middle of a global pandemic, and instead they’ve been subjected to pretty much endless abuse, threats and harassment for well over three years,” Becker said. 

Chris Thomas, who served as Michigan’s director of elections for 36 years under Democratic and Republican secretaries of state, broke down the history of changes to Michigan’s voter registration process. He noted that when same-day voter registration was first enacted, a number of people thought it was a terrible idea and that it would be an insecure process. 

Instead, it’s worked beautifully, he said.

“There’s ID that is shown; there’s not a security issue; it brings a lot of young people in on university campuses to vote. It’s a great way to extend the hand of government to make sure that voters have that opportunity on Election Day,” Thomas said. 

Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons, a Republican former state House member, said that elections can only be secure as long as voter lists are accurate. This can present challenges in the forms of similar iterations of names, or voters failing to update their address in a timely manner after voting, she said, encouraging voters to be responsible while playing their part in the election process.

Thomas noted that Michigan is the only state where the address on the driver’s license and on a resident’s registered voter registration are linked.

“Every time you change your driver’s license, your voter registration automatically updates. You don’t have to sign a separate piece of paper; you don’t have to go to a separate office,” Thomas said. “Every time you go into a clerk’s office and change your voter registration, your driver’s license is updated. So these are services of state and local and county governments working together.”

Michigan is also one of the early states to adopt a statewide voter registration file, Thomas said. 

Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck, a Republican, said it’s important for election officials balancing advocacy and administrative roles to ensure access and security.

Roebuck, who has served as Ottawa county clerk and register of deeds for the past nine years, said the reason he is still in his role is to build trust in the election system. 

“People trust information from sources that they trust. And I think my job is to be somebody people in my community trust,” Roebuck said. 

“I think there’s great conversations that we’ve been able to have with folks who have questions and concerns about the system is, ‘Hey, if you have a question or concern about how ballots are sealed up, you could do it. You could actually step up to this plate and sign off on the seal process. You could be the person who is actually guaranteeing your piece of election integrity and I think that is so critical,’” Roebuck said. 

Roebuck also noted that the election process has become more transparent as a result of the constitutional amendments approved by voters. 

Lyons said education, transparency and participation are key to establishing, bolstering and sustaining public trust.

“I always tell people we have so many checks and balances built into our law. We have so many transparent opportunities for people to participate. And truly I say, ‘Don’t just take my word for it; see for yourself,’” Lyons. 

And it’s not just becoming an election worker Lyons said, drawing attention to the need for election inspectors and poll challengers as well.

“I’m telling you, attend these checks and balances. We test all of our equipment before every election — every election — to make sure it’s functioning properly; it’s accurate. And those are open to the public,” Lyons said. 

There’s also the Kent County canvass where voters can see Democrats and Republicans reviewing election materials and results precinct by precinct. 

“It is a very thorough process. And guess what, it’s open to the public,” she said.

This article is republished from the Michigan Advance under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.