Jocelyn Benson in Detroit, April 11, 2019 | Ken Coleman
As state voters continue to cast ballots early and Election Day just three days away, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has raised concerns about voter suppression efforts. She urges anyone who encounters election-related misinformation to report it, so her department can investigate.
The Michigan Advance reported Thursday that right-wing operatives and conspiracy theorists Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, each facing several felony charges for spreading misinformation and attempting to intimidate Michigan voters via robocalls, have been ordered by a federal court to correct those falsehoods with another robocall.
The operatives allegedly orchestrated a robocall on Aug. 26 designed to intimidate voters, particularly those in areas with large minority populations, out of voting with mail-in ballots. Attorney General Dana Nessel filed charges against Burkman and Wohl on Oct. 1 for the attempt to suppress voter turnout.
In an interview with the Advance this week, Benson encouraged residents who have received an absentee ballot by mail to return it in person, if possible.
“I would go to my city or township clerk’s office, or a satellite office in a city like Detroit and pick up a ballot, fill it out, and return it right there so that it’s in and on time and done on one trip,” Benson said.
She also pointed out that an absentee ballot must be returned to the city or township in which it was requested in order for it to be valid. That means, for example, a Flint resident who requested an absentee ballot cannot return it in Detroit, Lansing, Traverse City or Grand Rapids.
“We are too close to Election Day, and the right to vote is too important, to rely on the postal service to deliver absentee ballots on time,” Benson said.
More than 3.25 million Michigan residents have requested absentee ballots and 2.6 million have returned their ballots as of Friday.
Benson pointed out that beginning on Election Day, a “vast amount of data” will have been received and need to be processed and that complete statewide election results may not be available until Friday, three days after Election Day.
“It may take 80 hours to tabulate 3.2 million ballots. That’s what the math shows, so we’re estimating Friday [for statewide results],” Benson said.
She also noted cyber security is a concern. Benson said that the Department of State has increased security to protect its voter file and other aspects of the voting process. She has partnered with federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to better understand and circumvent potential threats.
“We’ve also implemented training for our local election officials,” Benson said. She pointed out that she has hired the state’s first director of election security.
As for her reaction to a Michigan Court of Claims judge on Tuesday striking down her directive banning the open carry of guns at polling places on Election Day, which was then upheld by the Court of Appeals, Benson reiterated her concerns.
“For me, the bottom line is that voter intimidation is illegal, under both state and federal law, and we will not tolerate it in Michigan. We will continue to prepare our law enforcement and poll workers to identify intimidation, threats or harassment that occurs and contact the Michigan State Police or other law enforcement to protect workers,” Benson said.
Attorney General Dana Nessel said she is appealing to the Michigan Supreme Court.
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