Democratic nominee Benson outlines election security plan
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democratic secretary of state candidate Jocelyn Benson on Tuesday unveiled a plan designed to better secure Michigan elections, calling for routine post-election audits, standardized poll worker training and a different system to crosscheck the voter file against those in other states.
Benson detailed the five-point proposal to the Michigan Association of County Clerks’ annual convention in Traverse City and later to reporters on a conference call. She said implementing the best practices from around the country would make Michigan a national model and ensure election security “in the face of evolving domestic and foreign threats that could undermine the security of our democracy.”
She also wants to convene a commission of the nation’s top election security experts to advise Michigan and toughen criminal penalties for tampering with voting machines and systems. Benson was endorsed by Democrats at a spring convention and will officially become the party’s nominee at a convention Sunday.
Republicans will nominate accountant Mary Treder Lang or Michigan State University faculty member Joseph Guzman for secretary of state at their convention on Saturday. Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson cannot run again because of term limits.
Benson — an election law expert who also was the Democratic nominee in 2010 — proposed making risk-limiting audits, which have been adopted in Colorado and parts of New Mexico, “standard operating procedure” in Michigan. It is a type of audit that uses statistical methods and is considered a more rigorous process.
She also called for joining the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a 23-state collaborative she said is “by far the more reliable and accurate way of comparing voter files” across states than another crosscheck system in which Michigan now participates.
Johnson spokesman Fred Woodhams said she and the Bureau of Elections have focused on training and voter list maintenance since she took office in 2011. He said risk-limiting audits are an “interesting idea” but have only been tried statewide in Colorado, which has mail-in voting unlike Michigan.
“We want to see how they work in other states,” Woodhams said, adding that ballot validations for the first time will be done statewide as part of postelection audits after the November election. Ballots will be counted by hand to ensure the equipment is working correctly.
Woodhams said ongoing voter list maintenance is “essential to preventing fraud and eliminating vulnerabilities,” and the system Michigan participates in has included as many or more states than the collaborative Benson supports joining.
Also Tuesday, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission released a report showing how states plan to spend $380 million allocated by Congress last spring to strengthen voting systems amid ongoing threats from Russia and others. Michigan will receive $10.7 million on top of the $535,000 state match it has committed.
The state will hire at least two election security specialists. Nearly half of the spending is for cyber security, including assessments at the state, county, city and township levels. Michigan is among just eight states to administer elections at the local level.