LANSING, Mich. – Michigan’s chief elections officer on Monday announced a legislative agenda she said would ensure fair and secure elections following an election season marked by a huge increase in absentee voting and unfounded accusations of widespread voter fraud.
Michigan had the highest voter turnout in state history in the 2020 presidential election with about 5.5 million votes cast. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a call with media that she's looking to keep that momentum going and make it easier to vote.
Benson described the presidential election as successful, but not without a fight.
It was the first in which Michigan voters didn't need a reason to cast absentee ballots and they did so in droves, amounting to about 3.5 million votes. Former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters spread disinformation surrounding absentee and mail-in voting, asserting that the election was stolen and culminating in the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January.
Benson said the state will not be stopped by those in the Legislature who lead “deceitful attacks on our democracy," with unfounded claims of widespread electoral fraud.
“Across the country, legislative leaders are trying to make it harder to vote in person and impossible to vote absentee," Benson said. "They claim this will restore faith in elections, but the only voters who have lost faith, are those who believe the lies about our elections that these same leaders told, amplified or allowed through their silence to go uncorrected.”
Benson said she would push to make absentee voting easier and allow clerks to begin processing absentee ballots two weeks before Election Day. She also wants to require that absentee ballots applications be mailed to all registered voters before every federal election.
Benson discussed working with members of the legislature on both sides of the aisle.
Republican state Rep. Ann Bollin, who chairs the state House Elections and Ethics Committee, said in a statement Monday that Benson has only demonstrated interest in working with Democrats.
“If her goal is truly to work together in a bipartisan manner, I can’t imagine why she would continue to bring up emotionally charged policy proposals that have already been struck down by our courts," Bollin said. “Our focus must be on improving transparency, protecting election integrity and restoring the public’s trust – not on constitutionally questionable proposals that advance the Secretary of State’s own political agenda.”
Democrats had already pushed for a two week extension for clerks to count ballots, but the Michigan Court of Appeals blocked that action before the election.
Last year, clerks from across the state urged lawmakers to allow them to start processing absentee ballots before Election Day to little avail. The most help clerks could get from lawmakers was cities or townships with at least 25,000 residents could remove the outer envelopes from ballots the day before the election, but all absentee ballot processing had to start on Election Day.
In 2020, Benson’s office mailed absentee ballot applications to all of Michigan’s 7.7 million registered voters, which brought criticism from Trump and some state Republican lawmakers.
Among the other changes she will push for is a prohibition on voter deception that would mislead or deter residents from voting. Additionally, to address voter intimidation Benson is renewing a push to keep guns from the polls by seeking a ban on the open carry of firearms within 100 feet of a voting location.
Benson is also looking to mandate translated elections materials in certain non-English speaking areas, making voting sites more accessible to those with disabilities and making Election Day a state holiday She said that would get more people to work at polling locations and make it easier for voters to have time to vote.
Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.