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Jocelyn Benson honored for election leadership in Michigan

Benson
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson received several awards on April 21, 2022 for her leadership skills and the state’s redistricting process. Benson is running for reelection in November. (Bridge file photo)

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has received a John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her administration of the 2020 presidential election.

The award, which was announced Thursday by a grandson of the former president, comes from the JFK Presidential Library Foundation and cites Benson for her actions in December 2020, when armed protesters rallied around her home in Detroit to protest certification of the election.

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“Throughout the 2020 election cycle, Benson repeatedly refused to back down from fulfilling the duties of her office, even as threats and harassment from then-President Trump and his allies grew increasingly aggressive,” said the JFK Presidential Library Foundation release.

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The award comes as Benson, a first-term Democrat, seeks re-election this year, and Republicans are increasingly critical of both her administration of elections and the state’s Secretary of State branches. 

Republicans are set to endorse a candidate this weekend, and have questioned her decision to mail absentee ballots applications to all voters in 2020 and commitment to safeguarding against fraud. Multiple audits and investigations have confirmed results of the 2020 election.

“I share this award with every Michigander who is working to protect and defend our democracy in the face of a barrage of lies, hateful rhetoric, and threats,” Benson said in a Thursday statement.

Other recipients of the award this year are Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Arizona House Speaker Russell Bowers, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Wandera Moss, a Georgia elections department employee.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was a recipient of a Profile in Courage Award last year for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which also has been the subject of intense criticism from Republicans.

Ahead of this weekend’s convention, the state Republican Party released a video entitled “Empower Michigan” that serves as something of a playbook for their campaign message against Whitmer, Benson and other Democrats.

In a statement released in conjunction with the ad, state Republican Party co-chair Ron Weiser said “COVID failures … locked kids out of classrooms, shuttered small businesses and resulted in the deaths of the elderly and infirm.” 

The statement also accused Whitmer and Democrats of putting “woke ideologies” and leaving “out state high and dry as they chase personal political ambitions and engage in acts of theater for show.”

The Profile in Courage Awards in recent years have honored several Democrats, as well as Republicans who stood up to the party like Sen. Mitt Romney and this year’s winners, Cheney and Bowers. Cheney has been repeatedly rebuked for criticizing Trump, while Bowers was cited for resisting pressure to overturn the former president’s loss in Arizona.

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Also Thursday, Benson’s administration won two National Clearinghouse Awards for supporting the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, a citizen-led panel that redrew state legislative and congressional districts.

“Michigan’s elections system is second to none and we will continue working to make it even stronger and more accessible and secure for all our state’s voters, no matter where they live or who they vote for,” Benson said in a Thursday statement.

The EAC created the National Clearinghouse Awards in 2016 to encourage election offices to incorporate best practices and celebrate their accomplishments. An independent panel of election officials determines the winners.

Two other projects led by Benson’s administration earned honorable mentions. One is the Bureau of Elections’ reappointment tool, which helps clerks update district lines, and the other is the Democracy MVP program, which brings on volunteers as election workers.

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