Secretary candidate on mission to make state model for elections

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette Jocelyn Benson, Democratic candidate for Michigan secretary of state, talks during an interview at The Daily Mining Gazette Thursday. Benson is running for the post held by Republican Ruth Johnson, who cannot run again due to term limits.

HOUGHTON — A candidate for Michigan secretary of state said Thursday she plans to restore Michigan’s place as a leader in elections.

Jocelyn Benson, who visited Houghton Thursday, is the sole Democrat running to succeed term-limited Republican Ruth Johnson. Other candidates are Republicans Stan Grot, Joseph Guzman and Mary Trader Lang, as well as Libertarian Gregory Stempfle.

After running for secretary of state in 2010, Benson went on to become dean of Wayne State University’s law school. She said she gained experience there in finding ways to reduce fees for Michigan drivers.

“I’ve got a track record for knowing how to block fee increases and take the responsibility in an institution of doing more with less, cutting my budget just as I did as a dean, which I’m prepared to do as secretary of state, recognizing that we need to protect the pocketbooks of the hard-working men and women of the state,” she said.

One of Benson’s platform planks is a guarantee of service within 30 minutes at Secretary of State branches. The idea was inspired by a visit her husband made to renew to his license while home on leave from the Army. After 45 minutes, the line hadn’t moved, she said.

She plans to accomplish this partially through employee training, reducing foot traffic in offices by partnering with banks or stores such as Meijer to offer some services, and working to make offices operate more efficiently to make lines faster.

Benson, who wrote a book exploring how secretary of state offices around the country operate, said several states will have multiple offices providing different services.

“Instead of one office that handles everything, you can go to different offices based on the service that you need,” she said. “That helps to move the lines more quickly.”

She will also create policies that will create an option for renewing licenses every three to five years, instead of one year.

Benson was also motivated to run again by her husband’s voting experience. While serving in the Army in 2012, her husband, who was stationed in Afghanistan, voted by absentee ballot during the August primary.

The ballot was returned to her home address as undeliverable. Because Michigan law requires the ballot to be in by Election Day and not just postmarked by then, it couldn’t be counted.

“If a voter does everything they’re supposed to do to get their ballot in on time, then we should be able to do everything we can do to count it,” she said.

Benson would advocate for legislative changes to make it easier for people to cast ballots, such as no-reason absentee voting or early voting.

Along with that, she plans a three-pronged strategy to improve election security, consisting of post-election audits, a task force of election experts from around the country and more training for poll workers.

Benson said she plans to visit the area often if elected. She has family in Marquette and got engaged to her husband on a hike at Isle Royale State Park along the Minong Ridge Trail.

“It’s a special place for us,” she said.

While in Houghton, Benson also visited with residents affected by the June 17 flood. The need for state and federal government to support rebuilding and infrastructure investment shows the importance of residents having access to state government, she said.

“My work as secretary of state will be the chief advocate for citizens, for voters, in the state of Michigan and in Lansing, to make sure citizens throughout the state know how important their voice is, because that translates directly into ensuring that the state government is on their side when things like this happen,” she said.