Troubles and dissatisfaction continue to swirl around Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s handling of Michigan’s election process.

Halfway through her second term as SOS, Benson has already endured several legal setbacks for policies enacted pertaining to the 2020 election, but the rumored 2026 Democratic gubernatorial candidate still faces ongoing criticism from conservative groups and Republicans about how she is administering her election responsibilities.

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Election integrity is once again a crucial issue in a state still wary of the many changes Benson made during the 2020 election as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of Benson’s changes were challenged and eventually ruled invalid by Michigan courts.

Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, is chair of the Senate Election Committee, and served two terms as Secretary of State from 2011 to 2019. She was opposed in the 2010 election by Benson, whom she defeated by garnering 50.68% of the vote to Benson’s 45.22%. She was also gubernatorial candidate Richard DeVos’ running mate in 2006.

In 2012, Johnson was sued in her capacity as SOS by the ACLU, SEIU, Latin Americans for Social and Economic Justice and others. The plaintiffs succeeded in preventing Johnson from asking voters to prove their U.S. citizenship.

In 2020, Johnson and former Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land successfully sued Benson to stop her plan to allow the counting of ballots received after Election Day.

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In a phone conversation with The Midwesterner, Johnson noted several reasons for her concerns with Benson’s leadership.

For one, Johnson said, Michigan’s voting rolls currently stand at 104% of the state’s voting age population, clearly indicating a purge is in order.

Second, Johnson noted that Benson refused to eliminate 26,000 dead voters from the voter rolls in 2022, and 177,000 outdated registrants in 2021. According to Johnson, Benson, “Didn’t take off 177k names she was supposed to from the Qualified Voting File until after being sued and after already mailing them unsolicited absentee ballot applications.” 

Third, Johnson said, Benson “changed the definition of ‘Verify’ in the QVF. She told clerks to accept absentee ballot applications without further verification even if a person was flagged in the Qualified Voter File as having surrendered their driver’s license to another state.” 

Johnson also objected to Benson telling county clerks prior to the 2020 election to presume absentee ballot signatures were genuine and should be accepted in there were “any redeeming qualities.” In March 2021, a state Court of Claims judge ruled Benson’s directions “invalid.”

Johnson was also among several lawmakers that pointed out that Benson’s online absentee ballot application violated Michigan election law because it didn’t require a signature. Benson also attempted to allow online voting for people living overseas despite her own experts’ security concerns.

Johnson also said she’d be watching closely the appeal filed Tuesday by the Public Interest Legal Foundation. The appellate brief with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals asks the court to overturn a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Jane Beckering in March. That previous ruling concluded Benson’s office makes an effort to remove ineligible voters on a “regular and ongoing basis,” The Federalist reports.

Johnson also noted the Republican National Committee letter sent to Benson last week, alleging she has been negligent in removing nearly 92,000 inactive voters from the state’s voting rolls.

The RNC letter, signed by Senior Counsel Stephen J. Kenney, tallied 91,928 electors who “should have had their permanent absent voter applications rescinded” under Michigan election law.

Among them are:

  • 36,010 are inactive because they were sent a notice by the Secretary of State after they
    moved out of state and surrendered their Michigan driver license.
  • 26,445 are inactive because of a lack of voting activity.
  • 23,424 are inactive because they were sent a notice by a municipal clerk that they had
    moved to a different jurisdiction.
  • 5,046 are inactive because they were sent a notice by a municipal clerk that they had moved
    within that jurisdiction.
  • 1,005 are inactive for a combination of reasons including being sent a change-of-address
    notice and/or a lack of voting activity.