Benson, activists blast GOP election bills 

By: - July 2, 2021 12:29 pm

From left to right: Kenneyatta Cochran, Ken Whittaker, Jocelyn Benson, Art Reyes and Jacquelyn Jones. | SEIU photo

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Detroit-area activists on Thursday continued to blast a set of state Senate GOP-sponsored bills voter suppression.  

“The truth is these bills aren’t designed to increase election security; they’re designed to decrease turnout,” said Benson, a Democrat, at the meeting hosted by We The People Michigan, Michigan People’s Campaign and Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “One of the most important things Michigan voters can do to push back against these attacks is continue organizing, continue advocating and educating, and continue showing up — not just to the polls, but in their communities and at the offices of the elected officials trying to take away their rights and rob them of their voice.”

In March, state Senate Republicans introduced a 39-bill package after President Joe Biden, a Democrat, won Michigan over former President Donald Trump by more than 154,000 votes. The legislation includes a measure that would restrict the use of early voting drop boxes. Another would require voters to cast their ballot with a provisional ballot if they do not have a photo ID with them at the polling station.

In bipartisan fashion last Thursday, the upper chamber approved bills considered less controversial such as legislation to flag, but not remove, the registration record of a deceased voter and a measure to require a voter to acknowledge on their voter registration form they understand it is a felony to vote more than once in the same election.

“Voting on the issues that matter to our families is an important part of building our power,” said Jacquelyn Jones, a SEIU member and Detroit Public Schools Community District custodian. “As a member political organizer, we helped reach hundreds of thousands. Michigan voters last year, lots of them had rarely voted, and we helped convince people that our votes and our voices matter. And our program worked. We helped turn out record numbers to decide the election. We showed our collective power as voters.”

They called on lawmakers to expand voting rights and improve elections, making them more accessible and efficient. 

“In direct response to the power we’ve built, Michigan Republicans are now attacking our freedom to vote, pushing racist, anti-voter laws that work to silence Black voters and working people and spreading lies about an election that trusted officials conducted and verified numerous times,” said Art Reyes III, executive director of We The People Michigan. “They hope to divide and distract us, so we’ll look the other way while they attack workers and unions and try to keep power in the hands of corporations and the wealthy few. But we see right through their games. We know that we must band together, like we’ve done time and time again, to make sure all of us, no matter what we look like or where we live, can participate fully in our democracy and keep fighting for the beautiful world we all deserve.”

Republicans have defended the measures as necessary election reforms. Sen Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) this week made the case to reporters for the voter ID bill he sponsored, saying, “I think the most positive means of proving your identity is through your photo ID.”

But Ken Whittaker, executive director of Michigan United and Michigan People’s Campaign, said that the GOP package would place “deliberate barriers to the ballot box for Black and Brown voters.”

“They reinforce the structural oppression that we face every day. Our collective voice is a powerful tool for change.”

Kenneyatta Cochran, a McDonald’s employee, agreed with Whitaker.

“We have to join together to protect our right to vote, because if we allow them to take away our vote, they take away our voice. And we need a powerful voice to make this a place where every person, no matter where we work or what we look like, has the good jobs, respect, and dignity that we deserve.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.