Benson aims for Secretary of State seat

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ESCANABA — While becoming Michigan’s next secretary of state may not be the goal of everyone aspiring for public office, for Jocelyn Benson serving in the position is a dream she’s held for years.

“I love this office. I’ve written a book on the office. I believe this office can do so much to serve the citizens of Michigan and it’s been really underutilized,”Benson told the Daily Press recently. “It’s much more than just an office … that handles driver’s license renewals and the office that oversees voting. It’s the office that oversees the organ donor registry, and it’s the office that interacts with more citizens than any other office in state government.”

This is not Benson’s first run for the seat. In 2010, Benson received just over 45 percent of the votes cast when she ran against current Secretary of State Ruth Johnson (who won with just over 50 percent of the votes).

Key among Benson’s plan for the office should she be elected, is to put a freeze on driver registration fees, which she noted have increased 18 percent over the past few years.

“When I was dean at Wayne State, I froze tuition and cut our budget, so I’ve got experience at holding fees down, and I’m going to take that on this issue to Lansing,” she said.

While she plans to fight for a ban on any new vehicle fee increases, she does not intend to push for a reduction in fees — which are set by the state legislature — or for remodeling the fee structure, which bases registration fees on the manufacturer suggested retail price of vehicles the year they were produced.

“I think that the formulas need to be transparent so everyone can calculate their own fee and use that when choosing what car to buy,” she said.

While the secretary of state’s office has not always been an advocate for government transparency, Benson feels that it could be.

“Whether it’s just transparency on how we’re counting our ballots, transparency on the personal finances of our legislators, transparency on who’s lobbying our legislators, who’s pay for those robocalls or ads on TV, I really want to be, want to bring that transparency to Lansing in multiple different ways,” she said.

Elections are an important issue for Benson, and she hopes to make the processes easier for voters and harder for those that would compromise the process — both foreign and domestic.

“I’ve always felt that no mater what issues matter most to you, your ability to make change on them comes down to whether you have access to the ballot box, and the secretary of state oversees that process and makes sure democracy works well,” she said.

Benson supports “no-reason” absentee voting, which allows anyone to vote absentee for any reason, and early voting, which extends the period Michigan residents can vote at the polls by a set number of days.

“It shouldn’t create stress if all of a sudden you realize you can’t get to the polls on Tuesday,” she said.

Benson’s views on straight-ticket voting are mixed. While she supports the practice because it leads to faster voting and short wait-times at the polls, she encourages all voters to look at each individual candidate and not just the candidate’s party.

To make the process more secure, Benson hopes to improve poll worker training, convene an election security commission, enact new penalties for voting equipment tampering, and strengthen the accuracy of voter records by having Michigan join the Electronic Registration Center (ERIC) cross-state data matching system for voter verification.

“Even if we (Michigan) withstood a storm in 2016, we know that challenges to the security of our elections did not begin in 2016, and they won’t end with that election,” she said.

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