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Benson unveils legislative agenda to advance the vote, protect democracy

Pays tribute to Black History Month, voting rights movement

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson today unveiled her legislative agenda for elections – Advancing the Vote, Protecting Democracy – to expand voter accessibility and further strengthen the infrastructure and security of Michigan elections.

“Michigan voters want elections to be accessible, strong and secure. We saw this in 2018 when voters enshrined expanded voting rights in our state constitution, and again in 2020 when record numbers of voters exercised their new rights,” said Benson. “Our job now is clear: to defend and protect democracy by ensuring that no matter how one votes, who they vote for, where they live, or what they look like, their vote will be counted.”

Advancing the Vote, Protecting Democracy outlines a number of initiatives, all designed to ensure equitable access for voters, strengthen Michigan’s elections infrastructure and guarantee the security of elections. Specifically, Benson is proposing the following: 

  • Require absentee ballot applications be mailed to registered voters every federal election cycle;
  • Mandate ballots postmarked by Election Day and received shortly after are counted;
  • Establish early in-person voting;
  • Make Election Day a state holiday to facilitate voting and make it easier for citizens to serve as election workers;
  • Allow overseas service members and spouses to return their ballots electronically;
  • Require translated election materials where a significant non-English-speaking community lives;
  • Provide funds to ensure voting locations are ADA-compliant and establish curbside voting;
  • Allow processing of absentee ballots two weeks prior to Election Day;
  • Prohibit deceptive election practices that deter or mislead voters;
  • Prohibit open carry of firearms within 100 feet of a voting location;
  • Mandate training standards for election challengers and election workers; and,
  • Require a statewide risk-limiting audit of election results prior to state certification.

 Benson unveiled her Advancing the Vote plan on the first day of Black History Month in tribute to the many Black Americans whose sacrifice helped bring about expanded voting rights for all citizens. 

“Today, we stand on the shoulders of the brave men and women who have fought for voting rights and fair elections in our country,” said Benson’s Assistant Secretary of State Heaster Wheeler. “They recognized what we all know: Voting rights are civil rights, and accessible, strong and secure elections benefit every Michigan community and every Michigan citizen.”

The Benson Administration is working with members of the state Legislature to draft and introduce bills that embody the Advancing the Vote plan, which is already receiving support from State Representative Matt Koleszar, vice chair of the House Elections and Ethics Committee and State Senators Jeremy Moss, Adam Hollier, and Paul Wojno. 

The Benson proposal comes at a time when state lawmakers across the country on both sides of the aisle are laying out plans that could impact voting rights. According to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice, state legislators across the country have filed 106 bills – triple the number at this time last year – to generally make it harder to cast a ballot.

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Koleszar, Moss, Hollier and Wojno quotes:

“The state Bureau of Elections, local clerks and election workers around the state worked tirelessly to execute one of the most safe, secure and successful elections in recent history despite unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We learned a lot about meaningful steps we can take to expand equitable access to the ballot box, strengthen our voting infrastructure and increase security and transparency going forward. I strongly support Secretary Benson’s legislative recommendations and look forward to showing the rest of the nation how democracy can thrive in the 21st century.” -- Rep. Matt Koleszar

“In Michigan, every vote should be cherished, not challenged, and after a widely successful 2020 election, I hope we can build upon the proven safety and security of our free and fair election system. I look forward to working with my legislative colleagues to ensure that our election administrators have the resources they need to process absentee ballots earlier to expedite the ballot reporting process, and allow adequate time to address innocent mistakes and errors that lead to ballots being rejected.” -- Sen. Jeremy Moss

“We need to allow our service members and their family members overseas to return ballots electronically because they deserve peace of mind in knowing that their votes will be counted.” Sen. Adam Hollier.

“I look forward to working with Secretary Benson and my legislative colleagues to make Michigan’s election system work for everyone. That is why I’ve introduced Senate Bills 8 and 9 to streamline the voter registration process for Michiganders on active duty. I look forward to working with Secretary Benson and my colleagues in the Legislature in our continued effort to make Michigan’s election system work even better for everyone.” Sen. Paul Wojno (D-9).