Heard on All Things Considered

GOP Lawmakers’ Voting Bills Disenfranchise Marginalized Communities, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson Says

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Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

​Proposals call for measures to regulate elections, such as introducing new voter ID requirements and prohibiting the secretary of state from mailing absentee ballot applications to residents.

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Michigan’s chief election official is rejecting a plan by Republicans to overhaul the state’s voter access laws.  

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Thursday the 39 bills are a “poisonous package of legislation” intended to restrict voting rights.  

These proposals are based on the lies that sought to undermine the will of the voters in our democracy last year and they should be seen for what they are: an extension of those same lies, seeking to continue to undermine the will of Michigan citizens.” —Jocelyn Benson, Secretary of State

State lawmakers have introduced a package of bills in Lansing aimed to regulate elections, like introducing new voter ID requirements, requiring high-definition video monitoring of ballot drop boxes and limiting access to them on Election Day, and prohibiting the secretary of state from mailing absentee ballot applications to residents. Speaking at a news conference, Benson said the bills seek to disenfranchise marginalized communities. 

These proposals are based on the lies that sought to undermine the will of the voters in our democracy last year and they should be seen for what they are: an extension of those same lies, seeking to continue to undermine the will of Michigan citizens,” said Benson. 

Secretary of State Jocelyn BensonJake Neher/WDET
Jake Neher/WDET

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

Benson, a Democrat, believes lawmakers should respect the decision of Michigan voters, who approved no-reason absentee voting and same day registration in 2018. 

Just as millions of citizens embraced these policies, embraced the right to vote absentee, embraced the use of drop boxes and many other things in 2020, I hope those citizens now will contact their state legislators and know exactly what they want to see in their democracy,” she said. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pledged to veto the bills if passed, but the GOP could solicit signatures to override her decision. Ron Weiser, chairman of the Michigan GOP, announced his intent to do so last month. If petitioners collect more than 340,000 names, the Republican-controlled Legislature would be able to bypass the governor and put the measures into law. 

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey joined Benson in her remarks, saying a proposal to ban pre-paid postage for absentee ballot envelopes discriminates against low-income citizens. 

The legislatures who drafted these bills clearly want to restrict the voting rights of Detroit and other Black communities,” Winfrey said. “To get rid of these things is to get rid of democracy.” 

Similar efforts have appeared in Georgia, Arizona and Texas. Benson said it’s part of a coordinated effort by Republicans across the country. 

Over 250 bills have been introduced just since the beginning of this year,” Benson said. 

The GOP election proposals are drawing the disapproval from many of Michigan’s largest companies. General Motors, Ford, Quicken Loans, Blue Cross Blue Shield and all four of Detroit’s sports teams co-signed a letter opposing the effort. 

Winfrey Seeking Fifth Term as City Clerk 

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey provides an election update in November 2020.City of Detroit/Flickr
City of Detroit/Flickr

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey provides an election update in November 2020.

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey is seeking her fifth term in office. Winfrey has served in the role since 2005, overseeing Detroit’s elections and records keeping. Detroit’s 2021 citywide primary is Aug. 3, followed by the general election on Nov. 2.  

We will be utilizing [the TCF Center.] We will continue to use our satellites and our drop boxes. And we will mail to our constituents,” Winfrey said. 

And yes, I do plan on running for City Clerk again,” she added. 

Winfrey’s 16-year tenure as city clerk has been marked by a series of controversies. Detroiters have long complained about malfunctioning tabulators, voting irregularities and untrained staff. Last year’s last-minute polling location changes also caused confusion among voters.  

The city’s elections were the subject of several baseless conspiracy theories last year, despite no evidence of voter fraud. Last month, state and local clerks finished 250 audits of the 2020 election, confirming what election officials and independent experts had been saying for months: The 2020 election was the most secure and well-administered election ever in Michigan. In late March, GOP lawmakers joined a nationwide push seeking new voting regulations.

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Eli Newman, Reporter/Producer

Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.

eli.newman@wdet.org Follow @other_eli

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