Jocelyn Benson wants tougher penalties for harassing election workers
- Benson wants penalties for threatening election workers or ‘doxxing’ them
- She also seeks more money to run elections and has said another $100M may be needed
- Republicans could be leery and some believe the level of threats has been exaggerated
LANSING — Backed by a Democratic-majority Legislature, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson wants to discourage harassment against clerks and other election workers — and get them more money to run elections.
Benson, joined by at least 20 Democratic lawmakers for a Tuesday media conference in the state Capitol, said her top legislative priorities heading into her second term include:
- Explicitly prohibiting and increasing penalties for threatening or harassing an election official or worker, sharing their private contact information publicly (a tactic known as “doxxing”) and pressuring them to break the law
- Tightening rules around petition signature gathering and “hold accountable those who intentionally mislead voters”
- Increasing funding for municipalities to run elections and implementing new voting rules in by Proposal 2, which included nine days of early voting.
“We cannot have a secure democracy if we do not protect the security of the people who administer, protect and stand guard over our elections,” Benson said. “The status quo is unsustainable.”
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Benson also announced the creation of a nonpartisan task force to review election-related legislation and take input on implementing the Proposal 2 amendments. Voters approved the ballot measure in November.
Her agenda has early support from legislative Democrats, who said Tuesday they planned to introduce or reintroduce legislation soon that closely aligned with Benson’s policy priorities.
“Michiganders have spoken. They want to reduce barriers to the ballot box, they want to increase access to voting. The voting rights proposals that we've seen over the last several years have passed with strong and significant support,” said Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, and new chair of the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee.
“I'm looking forward to ushering through a pro-voter agenda,” he added.
Lawmakers and Benson said they are still working through specifics, but said the intent overall is to deter bad actors while protecting clerks and getting them the resources they need.
“We recognize the importance of free speech and the importance of ensuring people have an ability to communicate to their elected officials,” Benson said, noting the line is crossed when the communication “creates a hostile environment.”
As for funding requests, Benson said she’s working with staff on a formula to determine how much funding the state Bureau of Elections needs versus what’s needed at the local level.
Last year, Benson estimated that the state should allocate another $100 million to Michigan elections. She referenced that estimate again Tuesday, telling reporters she’s focused on “working on a formulaic basis so that we’re very clear where every dollar would go” before making specific requests.
Benson could face pushback from grassroots Republicans on the issue.
During the 2022 election cycle, Republican Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo — now a candidate for GOP party chair — accused Benson of exaggerating the extent of threats to election workers in Michigan.
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