LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Ruth Johnson on Tuesday criticized Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for focusing too much time on partisan press conferences and not enough time on working with the Legislature to improve Michigan’s election systems.
“When it comes to supporting bipartisan election legislation that improves our election processes and serves Michigan voters in both parties, Secretary Benson is good at holding press conferences, but AWOL when it comes to doing the work to get it done,” said Johnson, R-Holly. “We’ve passed commonsense election reforms with bipartisan support — only to have the governor veto the bills. These measures included allowing more polling place locations, requiring better training for election challengers, limiting third-party access to the Qualified Voter File, and helping local clerks remove dead people from the voter file. Where was Secretary Benson?”
At a press conference on Tuesday, Benson called on lawmakers to approve legislation allowing more time ahead of Election Day for clerks to process absentee ballots and legislation to allow electronic voting by military members serving overseas and their families.
“Last year, I introduced Senate Bill 334 to remove the sunset on the 2020 law allowing for pre-processing of absentee voter ballots in a manner that protects the integrity of the ballot, but I have yet to receive any communication from Secretary Benson on her concerns about this issue,” Johnson said. “The Senate has already passed measures sponsored by me and Democratic Sen. Paul Wojno to allow our brave servicemen and women to electronically return their ballots by using the same secure technology they already use to transmit classified documents.
“The legislation is the result of meeting with troops and military leaders during a tour I made to the Middle East with a bipartisan group of secretaries of state — yet it keeps being sabotaged by Secretary Benson because it is limited to military members.”
Benson also called for $100 million annually from the state for locals to conduct elections and for the Legislature to increase penalties for threatening election workers.
“We already have strong laws in place to address harassment, threats and intimidation of our valuable election workers, and Secretary Benson has never come before the Senate Appropriations Committee or asked for a meeting with me or my colleagues to discuss more state funding for elections,” said Johnson, who served as Michigan secretary of state from 2011 to 2018. “At the same time, the secretary is sitting on $16 million in federal Help America Vote Act funds and won’t say how she’s spending the money or come to the Senate Elections Committee to answer questions on it.”
Senate Bill 311, sponsored by Johnson, would require the state to establish a process to allow for members of the armed forces, who are on active duty, absent from the U.S., and not expected to return home in time to cast their vote, to electronically return their ballot to their city or township clerk using a U.S. Department of Defense verified electronic signature.
SB 8, sponsored by Wojno, D-Warren, would define “United States Department of Defense verified electronic signature” as the certificate-based digital identification code issued to qualified personnel by the DOD as the Common Access Card or its successor.
A CAC is an encrypted smart card that serves as the identification issued to active duty military members by the DOD. A service member would need their CAC card along with their password or PIN to transmit their ballot securely.
Bipartisan election bills vetoed by the governor include House Bill 4492, approved 84-21 in the House, to allow for additional polling place locations at a limited list of specific private locations; HB 4528, approved 81-24 in the House, to require training for election challengers and increase training for election workers about the role of challengers; HB 4837, approved 72-33 in the House, to ban unapproved third parties from accessing the Qualified Voter File; and SB 277, approved 80-25 in the House, to allow county clerks to assist local clerks to more quickly remove deceased voters from the Qualified Voter File.
“Secretary Benson remains MIA on giving updates or answering questions at the Senate Elections Committee hearings. It’s a disservice to the people of Michigan,” Johnson said.