Benson lays out plans at Fraser VFW

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Jocelyn Benson thinks it’s only right that those who are protecting our right to vote should have their right to vote protected as well.

Benson, the Democratic candidate for state Secretary of State, made a campaign stop at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6691 in Fraser on Tuesday to talk about the importance of making sure the ballots of man and women serving overseas are counted in future elections.

Just days before local clerks are required to mail absentee voter ballots to military personnel and others who are out of the country, Benson drove home her plan to make sure those ballots are returned on time are counted. She recalled how in August 2012 her husband’s ballot arrived from Afghanistan after the election and stamped “undeliverable,” even though he followed protocol and returned his ballot on time. Ryan Friedrichs, Benson’s husband, had been serving in Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

“There are few things that are more of a gut punch as doing democracy work your whole life as I have my whole career, my husband serving overseas, and knowing that dispute our best efforts, we couldn’t make the process work for him,” she said. “And his ballot wasn’t counted in that election. If we would have lived in a couple of other states, we would have been able to take that ballot to the clerk’s office at that moment and have it still counted in that election because it was postmarked by Election Day. Here in Michigan, we don’t have that provision.

“I want to make sure that no service member went through what our family went through,” she added. “The notion that the voting rights of active duty military are at any point disenfranchised is unacceptable.”

Benson, currently the CEO and executive director of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), is the former dean of Wayne State University Law School. She is also the author of “Secretaries of State, Guardians of the Democratic Process.” The Detroit resident was endorsed at the VFW hall by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Prosecutor Eric Smith, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, state Sen. Steve Bieda and former state representative Marilyn Lane of Fraser. Rochester Hills councilwoman Jenny McCardell and retired Army veteran Seymour Hundley Jr. also appeared in support of Benson.

Benson ran for Secretary of State in 2010 but was defeated by Ruth Johnson, who still serves in the office but is term limited and cannot run in 2018. Benson will face Republican Mary Treder Lang, who is vice chairwoman of the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents.

As part of her “easier to vote, harder to cheat” plan, Benson will call for a Michigan voter protection plan to protect those out of the country, including our military, allowing for online voter registration to make it easier for them to register to vote, and she will enact a no-reason policy for allowing the usage of absentee ballots. And will also allow ballots that are postmarked on or before Election Day to be counted, as opposed to the current policy which requires ballots to be received on or before Election Day to be counted.

In addition, those serving in a hostile war zone will have ballots returned by a secured web portal or fax, followed by a paper ballot via U.S. Mail. Benson said similar plans are already in place in other states. She would also work with local clerks to cover the cost of postage-due on paper ballots returned to their offices, a practice already practiced by some local clerks in the state.

Among her other proposals are a “30-Minute Guarantee” that no one should have to wait more than 30 minutes to renew their driver license, register their vehicle or cast a ballot. Benson recalled another time when her husband was home on leave for 48 hours and took part of that time to get his driver license renewed. After a lengthy wait, Friedrichs left the Oak Park office because he didn’t want to spend anymore of his precious leave time waiting in line.

“So I will bring that experience with me to the Secretary of State office,” she said.

Other key parts of Benson’s platform include:

• Banning fee increases, such as freezing increases in driver’s fees.

• Election security, including toughening penalties for those who commit voter fraud and voter intimidation. And she plans to lead an effort to protect elections from the threat of computer hacking, tampering, and manipulation.

• Ethics and transparency. Benson said Michigan is last among the 50 states in government transparency and accountability. She said she will push for reforms that will make Michigan one of the best states in the nation and shine a light on secret money flowing into the election process by requiring instant disclosure of all political and lobbying money.

“As we careen toward the next presidential election in 2020, the next secretary of state must be prepared on day one to implement security requirements to ensure that our democracy is secure,” she said.

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