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Michigan's Secretary of State outlines policy hopes for legislative session

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (right) and Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
State of Michigan
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is asking for millions of dollars in funding to improve statewide and local elections.

Michigan's Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson outlined her priorities Tuesday at a news conference alongside lawmakers that are a part of the state’s Democratic majority in the House and Senate.

She named funding local election administration, further banning harassment of election workers and preventing the telling of lies to voters about their rights and petitions in her policy goals for lawmakers to address.

Benson said she and other election workers have faced a variety of protests over the past couple of election cycles. She said demonstrations outside election workers' homes are among the most troubling.

“We recognize the importance of free speech and the importance of ensuring people have an ability to communicate to their election officials and that provide that avenue. But also, that does cross a line when it creates a hostile environment and a threatening environment, particularly in our homes,” she told reporters.

Democrats are describing the proposals as “vision setting” that will help them craft future bills.

While there’s no timeline for getting bills introduced or to the governor’s desk, it’s likely setting aside money to help fund local elections will come up during the budget-writing process.

Benson said lawmakers are working on a formula to figure out how much the state’s elections bureau and local election workers would need. She said that estimate came out to around $100 million, but there’s more work needed to get a concrete figure.

While early reactions indicate Republicans could potentially get on board with the priorities Democrats outlined Tuesday, some differences could arise in the details.

Representative Ann Bollin (R-Brighton Twp.) chaired the House Committee on Elections and Ethics last term. This term, no longer in the majority party in the legislature, she’s a member of the Appropriations Committee.

She said she supports making sure elections receive proper funding, but she’s unsure of the $100 million number floated.

“I think it’s a number that’s been thrown out there. I do think we have to have discussions, but we also have to be very clear on what they’re going to fund. Again, I think it’s important to have them funded through state government, and they’re also local government’s responsibility,” Bollin said.

She said Republicans would also like to see election priorities focus around improving security.

As far as Benson’s priorities, Bollin said she supports some, like keeping petition signature gathers from lying to voters.

During Tuesday’s press conference, Senate Elections and Ethics Committee Chair Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said there are ways Michigan can limit misinformation without infringing on free speech rights.

“Practices like banning paid-per-signature, including holding the ballot committee accountable for their training practices and how they train the people who are going out and gathering petitions."

Moss said other states have tested and implemented similar policies and suggested Oregon as an example Michigan can follow.

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