Election Law
9:13 pm
Mon March 17, 2014

WSW: How Could Michigan Elections be Improved?

Voters standing in line in Miami for early voting in 2012 - file photo
Credit The Associated Press

WestSouthwest with Jocelyn Benson

Jocelyn Benson is the Dean of Wayne State University's Law School and has written a book on the role of state Secretaries of State. 

Michigan Democrats chose Benson as their nominee for Secretary of State in 2010. She lost that race to the Republican currently in the office, Ruth Johnson. Benson is also the founder of the Michigan Center for Election and Law as well as Military Spouses of Michigan. 

WMUK's Gordon Evans asked Benson about drawing legislative boundaries. She has advocated changes in Michigan's process, which currently leaves it to the lawmakers to agree on the districts for state Legislature, as well as Congress. Benson says any process that involves citizens would have more integrity than the currently system. She says it is difficult to keep politics out of drawing boundaries for legislative districts. But Benson says states that include citizens have a system which is more fair than having lawmakers create their own districts. 

Extended interview with Jocelyn Benson - web version

Jocelyn Benson
Credit Wayne State University Law School

Benson says election administration should be non-partisan. But she says Secretaries of State can  have a major influence on elections. Benson says both parties are trying to influence races for Secretary of State because they know it's important. "But it's still wrong" she says. Benson says there are Secretaries of State of both parties that approach their job in an openly partisan way, and others who seek a non-partisan role even if they were elected as a Republican or Democrat. Benson says voters have to demand that candidates running for Secretary of State approach the office in a non-partisan way. But she acknowledges that it's difficult with so many other races competing for voters' attention. 

Election Day 2012 saw long lines outside many polling place. The Michigan Center for Election and Law, founded by Benson responded to many complaints about broken voting machines. Benson says better poll worker training would help reduce some of the long lines. She says the non-profit sector has bought additional voting machines and taken other measures to help ensure that people can vote. 

Benson says the decentralized election system in the United States means that a vote is more or less likely to count depending on where someone lives. She says Michigan should join other states in allowing people to vote absentee for any reason, let people register online and permit early voting. Benson says other states also allow voter registration close to election day. 

A recent Gull Lake School millage election originally showed the proposal failed by five votes. But a recount found spoiled ballots that changed the outcome of the election and the bond issue passed. Benson says most elections "contain some sort of wrinkle." She says spoiled ballots and ballots not counted can change the outcome of the election. Benson says there are a lot of imperfections in the election system, and in a close race, she says it can change the outcome. 

Benson says many people married to, or in a relationship with a member of the military need support. Benson's husband is in in the military and currently deployed overseas. She says Military Spouses of Michigan offers free legal services, child care and other forms of support.  Benson says the group has tried to be a source of support for spouses and partners of military personnel. 

As far as her own political future, Benson says she's very happy right now as Dean of Wayne State University's Law School. Last year Benson considered running for Congress, but decided not to seek office this year. She says another run for office in the future is possible.