Person

Jocelyn Benson

Born:

October 22, 1973

Party:

Democrat

Occupation:

Michigan Secretary of State (elected 2018)

Jocelyn Benson is a Democratic politician serving as Secretary of State of Michigan as of 2021. Benson was elected in 2018 to a four-year term and oversaw the controversial 2020 election in Michigan. Prior to the election, Secretary Benson announced that the state would mail ballots to all registered voters, prompting President Donald Trump to threaten to cut Michigan’s federal funding. Soon after the election, Secretary Benson defended the state’s vote counting process from attacks and investigations initially led by Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel.

Secretary Benson is the founder and former head of the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration (MCLEA). For nearly a decade, the MCLEA had little to no activity, until in 2020, the group received more than $12 million from the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR) to promote election security, nearly all of which was quickly paid out to two Democratic consulting firms. CEIR had recently received $69.5 million from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscila Chan.

Early Career

Jocelyn Benson earned her bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and was the first student to be elected to the governing body of the town of Wellesley. Benson then earned a Master’s degree in sociology from Oxford University in the United Kingdom. After graduation, she moved to Alabama to work for the controversial left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate crime investigator. She later worked for National Public Radio as a legal assistant. Benson returned to Wellesley to get a Master’s degree in philosophy. She then attended Harvard Law School to become a voting rights attorney. [1] [2] [3]

At Harvard, Benson worked on a campaign that successfully passed the 2002 Help America Vote Act, a major electoral reform bill intended to eliminate the ambiguities in the voting process during the 2000 presidential election by creating federal election standards and establishing the Election Assistance Commission. [4]

In 2004, Benson graduated from law school and clerked for Judge Damon Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. [5] [6]

Also in 2004, Benson worked for the Democratic National Committee to develop an “election protection program” that trained 17,000 volunteer lawyers. [7]

In 2005, Benson became a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, and she has maintained a professional association with the school ever since. From 2012-2016, Benson served as Wayne State’s Dean, making her the youngest woman to lead an accredited law school in the United States. [8]

Benson has specialized in election procedure and security since law school, and she has overseen elections in a variety of roles. Benson previously served as a member of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Election Law, and she has supervised three statewide election protection efforts across Michigan. In 2008, Benson led an unsuccessful effort to prohibit the use of eviction lists to challenge voter eligibility. [9]

Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration

In 2010, Benson founded the MCLEA. From its founding until 2019, the group likely neither raised nor spent any money, and operated as a “corporate shell.” Benson officially led the MCLEA until 2019, when Sally Marsh, the director of special projects under Benson as secretary of state, took over the group. [10] [11]

In 2020, United Brotherhood of Carpenters director Jen McKernan became president of the MCLEA. [12] In the last few months of 2020, the MCLEA raised over $12 million through a single donation from the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), which had recently received $69.5 million from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscila Chan. Nearly all of the $12 million was quickly spent on two Democratic consulting groups, Alper Strategies and Waterfront Strategies, to promote voter outreach and election security. [13]

Other Associations

iCivics Inc.

In 2011, Benson began to sit on the board of iCivics, Inc., a nonprofit civics education group founded by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. [14]

Military Spouses of Michigan

In 2012, Benson co-founded Military Spouses of Michigan, a support network for the spouses of active service men and women. Benson’s husband is a former U.S. Army Officer. [15]

Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality

From 2016-2018, Benson served as CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, which promotes women’s sports leagues. One of Benson’s initiatives was RISE to Vote, which encouraged professional athletes to register to vote. [16]

Political Career

In 2010, Jocelyn Benson published a book on the best practices of state-level secretaries of state. Soon after, she ran for secretary of state in Michigan as a Democrat, and lost to Ruth Johnson (R-MI) with 45.2% of the vote. [17]

In 2018, Benson again ran for Michigan secretary of state, this time defeating Mary Treder Lang (R-MI) with 52.9% of the vote. [18] She was the first Democratic secretary of state of Michigan since 1995. [19]

2020 Election

Before, during, and after the 2020 election, Secretary Benson faced pressure and criticism for her role in overseeing Michigan’s election. [20]

In January 2020, Benson was connected to a lawsuit by the Public Interest Legal Foundation against the federal government for the improper maintenance of voter rolls in Detroit. On Detroit’s voter rolls, the group found 2,503 dead individuals, 4,788 instances of voters registering multiple times, over 16,000 instances of voters missing crucial information on their registrations, and an alleged excess of 34,000 voters over Detroit’s adult population. The Foundation blamed Janice Winfrey, an appointee of Secretary Benson, for mismanaging the voter rolls. [21]

In May, Secretary Benson announced that Michigan would be mailing ballots to all 7.7 million registered voters in Michigan for the primaries and general election. In response, President Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal election funding from Michigan, claiming that encouraging absentee voting would promote a greater level of fraud. Secretary Benson publicly affirmed her policy and defended the security of Michigan’s absentee voting system. [22]

Shortly after Secretary Benson’s announcement, a Democratic supporter of Secretary Benson preemptively filed a lawsuit against the state of Michigan challenging the secretary of state’s right to mail unsolicited ballot applications. Michigan’s courts ruled in favor of Secretary Benson through multiple appeals. In December, the Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear the case. [23]

On November 6, three days after the election, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel called for an investigation into the ballot counting process in Michigan and three other states over concerns of voter fraud against President Trump. Soon after, Secretary Benson made a public statement affirming the security of Michigan’s election process and denied any need for investigations, though she admitted that Antrim County had erroneously reported unofficial results due to human error. [24] Two days prior to her statement, Secretary Benson had accused critics of the election outcome of “attacking democracy.” [25]

In December, Secretary Benson released a statement describing protests outside her home. According to Secretary Benson, the protesters shouted conspiracy theories claiming she facilitated election fraud to oust President Trump. Benson also claimed that several of the protesters were armed. [26]

Lawsuits

Secretary Benson was targeted directly and indirectly by numerous lawsuits after the election. On November 4, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit against Secretary Benson claiming that Republican poll watchers lacked sufficient access in Detroit and other cities to monitor for fraud. The lawsuit was dismissed in the Michigan Court of Claims. [27]

The Trump campaign filed another lawsuit against Secretary Benson asking to delay the certification of election results. The lawsuit claimed to have 100 affidavits demonstrating instances of election fraud. The lawsuit was withdrawn eight days later after the electoral results were certified. [28]

Also in November 2020, a resident of Atrium County, one of the most contentious electoral districts in Michigan, sued the county for alleged election fraud. Though Secretary Benson was not named in the lawsuit, she voluntarily became a defendant because the complaint made accusations against the entire state government. In March 2021, the plaintiff accused Secretary Benson of withholding voting records that her office was ordered to turn over in February. Secretary Benson responded by accusing the plaintiff of dodging depositions to prolong the lawsuit. [29]

In October 2020, Secretary Benson was sued by a group of Michigan voters claiming that she had allowed “partisan operatives” to influence the election by permitting the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) to give money to local and county clerks to drive voter outreach. Allegedly, the CTCL served Democratic interests by promoting voting “in only certain urban and predominantly Democratic precincts.” [30]

Recall Attempts

In 2020, three recall efforts were launched against Secretary Benson. One of the three efforts were approved for circulation by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, but the petition failed to get 1,046,006 signatures in 60 days to get on the ballot for the 2020 election. [31]

As of September, nine recall attempts have been launched against Secretary Benson in 2021, all of which were denied by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers. [32]

References

  1. Barnett, Lana. “The battle for the ballot box.” Harvard Law Today. August 19, 2021. Accessed September 11, 2021. https://today.law.harvard.edu/the-battle-for-the-ballot-box/. ^
  2. “Jocelyn Benson.” Wayne State University. Accessed September 11, 2021. https://law.wayne.edu/profile/ax9860#definition-Biography. ^
  3. Griffith, Benjamin E. “America Votes!: A Guide to Modern Election Law and Voting Rights.” American Bar Association. 2008. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://books.google.it/books?id=PKv9tziGMgIC&pg=PR22&lpg=PR22&dq=American+Bar+Association%27s+Standing+Committee+on+Election+Law+jocelyn+benson&source=bl&ots=CrldKQZcpO&sig=ACfU3U1PfwIOVNOdfBjvJzIu8cUy2fidfg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiYlOaNn4TzAhVcgf0HHdqkDB8Q6AF6BAgUEAM#v=onepage&q=jocelyn%20benson&f=false. ^
  4. Barnett, Lana. “The battle for the ballot box.” Harvard Law Today. August 19, 2021. Accessed September 11, 2021. https://today.law.harvard.edu/the-battle-for-the-ballot-box/. ^
  5. “Jocelyn Benson.” Wayne State University. Accessed September 11, 2021. https://law.wayne.edu/profile/ax9860#definition-Biography. ^
  6. Barnett, Lana. “The battle for the ballot box.” Harvard Law Today. August 19, 2021. Accessed September 11, 2021. https://today.law.harvard.edu/the-battle-for-the-ballot-box/. ^
  7. Griffith, Benjamin E. “America Votes!: A Guide to Modern Election Law and Voting Rights.” American Bar Association. 2008. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://books.google.it/books?id=PKv9tziGMgIC&pg=PR22&lpg=PR22&dq=American+Bar+Association%27s+Standing+Committee+on+Election+Law+jocelyn+benson&source=bl&ots=CrldKQZcpO&sig=ACfU3U1PfwIOVNOdfBjvJzIu8cUy2fidfg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiYlOaNn4TzAhVcgf0HHdqkDB8Q6AF6BAgUEAM#v=onepage&q=jocelyn%20benson&f=false ^
  8. “Jocelyn Benson.” Wayne State University. Accessed September 11, 2021. https://law.wayne.edu/profile/ax9860#definition-Biography. ^
  9. “Jocelyn Benson.” Wayne State University. Accessed September 11, 2021. https://law.wayne.edu/profile/ax9860#definition-Biography. ^
  10. Miele, Frank Daniel. “Zuckerberg-Funded Nonprofit Paid $11.8 Million to Democrat Political Consulting Firms for ‘Nonpartisan Voter Education’ in Michigan 2020 Election.” Star News Network. August 5, 2021. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://thestarnewsnetwork.com/2021/08/05/zuckerberg-funded-nonprofit-paid-11-8-million-to-democrat-political-consulting-firms-for-nonpartisan-voter-education-in-michigan-2020-election/. ^
  11. “Sally Marsh.” LinkedIn. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/sally-marsh/. ^
  12. “Form 990-N (e-Postcard).” U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/detailsPage?ein=263393063&name=Michigan%20Center%20for%20Election%20Law%20and%20Administration&city=Detroit&state=MI&countryAbbr=US&dba=&type=CHARITIES,%20DETERMINATIONLETTERS,%20EPOSTCARD,%20COPYOFRETURNS&orgTags=CHARITIES&orgTags=DETERMINATIONLETTERS&orgTags=EPOSTCARD&orgTags=COPYOFRETURNS. ^
  13. Miele, Frank Daniel. “Zuckerberg-Funded Nonprofit Paid $11.8 Million to Democrat Political Consulting Firms for ‘Nonpartisan Voter Education’ in Michigan 2020 Election.” Star News Network. August 5, 2021. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://thestarnewsnetwork.com/2021/08/05/zuckerberg-funded-nonprofit-paid-11-8-million-to-democrat-political-consulting-firms-for-nonpartisan-voter-education-in-michigan-2020-election/. ^
  14. “Jocelyn Benson.” iCivics. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://www.icivics.org/our-team/nojs/674389. ^
  15. “Serving and Protecting the Military Community.” Michigan.Gov. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://www.michigan.gov/documents/sos/Serving_and_Protecting_the_Military_Community_655193_7.pdf. ^
  16. “Benson drew salary from RISE while seeing office.” Crain’s Detroit Business. March 17, 2019. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://www.crainsdetroit.com/government/benson-drew-salary-rise-while-seeking-office. ^
  17. “Jocelyn Benson.” Ballotpedia. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://ballotpedia.org/Jocelyn_Benson. ^
  18. “Jocelyn Benson.” Ballotpedia. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://ballotpedia.org/Jocelyn_Benson. ^
  19. Barnett, Lana. “The battle for the ballot box.” Harvard Law Today. August 19, 2021. Accessed September 11, 2021. https://today.law.harvard.edu/the-battle-for-the-ballot-box/. ^
  20. “Jocelyn Benson on Trump Attacks: I’m Not Going To Play Games, We Don’t Have Time For That.” WDet. May 22, 2020. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://wdet.org/posts/2020/05/22/89649-jocelyn-benson-on-trump-attacks-im-not-going-to-play-games-we-dont-have-time-for-that/. ^
  21. McNeilly, Greg. “Opinion: Secretary Benson isn’t practicing what she preached on voter rolls.” Detroit News. January 15, 2020. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://eu.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2020/01/15/opinion-secretary-benson-isnt-practicing-what-she-preached/4469422002/. ^
  22. “Jocelyn Benson on Trump Attacks: I’m Not Going To Play Games, We Don’t Have Time For That.” WDet. May 22, 2020. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://wdet.org/posts/2020/05/22/89649-jocelyn-benson-on-trump-attacks-im-not-going-to-play-games-we-dont-have-time-for-that/. ^
  23. Hendrickson, Clara. “Michigan Supreme Court won’t hear lawsuit challenging absentee ballot applications.” Detroit Free Press. December 29, 2020. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2020/12/29/michigan-supreme-court-jocelyn-benson-mail-ballot-applications-election/4071925001/. ^
  24. Booth, Dejanay. “Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson disputes claims by Republican National Committee chair on Michigan’s ballot counting process.” Click on Detroit. November 6, 2020. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://www.clickondetroit.com/decision-2020/2020/11/07/secretary-of-state-jocelyn-benson-disputes-claims-by-republican-national-committee-chair-on-michigans-ballot-counting-process/. ^
  25. Spencer, Dave; Komer, David. “SOS Benson says anyone who questions election accuracy is attacking democracy.” FOX 2 Detroit. November 4, 2020. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://www.fox2detroit.com/news/sos-benson-says-anyone-who-questions-election-accuracy-is-attacking-democracy. ^
  26. Brock, Hannah. “SOS Benson threatened at her private residence.” The State News. December 7, 2020. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://statenews.com/article/2020/12/sos-jocelyn-benson-threatened-at-her-private-residence?ct=content_open&cv=cbox_latest. ^
  27. “A Summary of Michigan’s 2020 Election lawsuits.” Michigan Free Press. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://eu.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2020/12/11/summary-michigans-2020-election-lawsuits/3861548001/. ^
  28. “A Summary of Michigan’s 2020 Election lawsuits.” Michigan Free Press. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://eu.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2020/12/11/summary-michigans-2020-election-lawsuits/3861548001/. ^
  29. Burns, Gus. “Plaintiff in election lawsuit accuses Secretary of State of withholding records.” Michigan Live. March 22, 2021. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://www.mlive.com/public-interest/2021/03/plaintiff-in-election-lawsuit-accuses-secretary-of-state-of-withholding-records.html. ^
  30. Ferretti, Christine. “Benson accused of letting ‘partisan operatives’ influence election.” Detroit News. October 6, 2020. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://eu.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2020/10/06/suit-alleges-benson-allowed-partisan-operatives-influence-nov-3-race/3630702001/. ^
  31. “Jocelyn Benson recall, Michigan Secretary of State (2020-2021). Ballotpedia. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://ballotpedia.org/Jocelyn_Benson_recall,_Michigan_Secretary_of_State_(2020-2021). ^
  32. “Jocelyn Benson recall, Michigan Secretary of State (2020-2021). Ballotpedia. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://ballotpedia.org/Jocelyn_Benson_recall,_Michigan_Secretary_of_State_(2020-2021). ^
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