Jocelyn Benson enters Michigan secretary of state race

October 17, 2017

Jocelyn Benson speaks with reporters while announcing her candidacy for Michigan secretary of state on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, at the Grand Traverse Pie Co., in downtown Lansing, Mich. Benson, a Democrat, is vying for the office again after losing to Republican Ruth Johnson in 2010. (AP Photo/David Eggert)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Election law expert Jocelyn Benson announced Tuesday that she is running for Michigan secretary of state, saying no one should have to wait more than 30 minutes to renew a driver’s license, register a vehicle or vote.

It is the second time the Democrat has sought the position. She was the party’s 2010 nominee but lost to Republican Ruth Johnson, who cannot run for a third term in 2018.

Benson, of Detroit, said the half-hour guarantee should apply to residents “no matter where you are in the state,” saying she waited two hours to vote in the August 2016 primary election. She launched her campaign outside a secretary of state branch in Detroit and at stops in Grand Rapids and Lansing.

It has been more than 22 years since a Democrat held the office, which oversees elections and issues driver’s licenses and plates. Benson, 39, led the Wayne State University Law School for nearly four years and is currently CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, a nonprofit founded by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to improve race relations and drive social progress.

“I believe that we should be able to get you in and out of a branch office and in and out of polling place within 30 minutes,” she said during a visit to a pie shop in Lansing.

Benson — who pointed to her recent experience running large organizations — pledged to make Michigan a national model in election security, to prohibit fee increases and to expand absentee and early voting.

“A lot of other states have figured out how to ... expand the hours that you can vote — meaning early voting, no-reason absentee so that we’re not all going to the polls during this sort of one window on Election Day,” she said. Absentee voters currently must be at least 60 years old, be out of town when the polls are open or be unable to vote on Election Day due to a physical disability, religious tenets or incarceration.

Benson committed to improved training for election workers and a more efficient voting process by making sure there are enough privacy booths and tabulator machines. She also said she would champion changes designed to make lobbying and political spending more transparent.

“I want to take seriously the responsibility to modernize our elections,” she said.

Benson wrote a book about the role secretaries of state play in elections. She is the first Democrat to enter the race. Republican candidates include Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot and accountant Mary Treder Lang.

GOP and Democratic delegates will choose their secretary of state nominees at conventions next summer.


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