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Michigan secretary of state race: Where Benson, Karamo stand on issues

Kristina Karamo and Jocelyn Benson
Michigan voters will choose between Republican Kristina Karamo and Democrat Jocelyn Benson to be secretary of state for the next four years.
  • Democratic incumbent Jocelyn Benson wants secure elections and shorter wait times for driver services
  • Republican candidate Kristina Karamo calls for a forensic audit of the 2020 presidential election 
  • One of the candidates will get a four-year term following Tuesday’s election

Republican candidate Kristina Karamo and Democratic incumbent Jocelyn Benson are vying to become the next Michigan’s secretary of state Nov. 8. 

The two candidates have not had a debate. Benson agreed to one hosted by PBS, but challenger Karamo refused because she said the debate did not include a Republican-leaning co-moderator. 

Bridge Michigan has reported on both candidates' goals, stances, and more throughout the 2022 campaign season. Heading into Tuesday’s election, here's what to know:

Democrat Jocelyn Benson

benson

Benson, 45, of Detroit, served as CEO and executive director of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality and is the former dean of Wayne State University Law School. 

Benson became secretary of state in 2018 and previously ran for the position in 2010 but lost to former Republican Ruth Johnson. 

Related: Jocelyn Benson: ‘We’ve delivered on our promises.’ Republicans aren’t so sure.

She attended Wellesley College, Oxford University and Harvard Law School.

Sponsor

Issues

As a candidate, Benson campaigns on promises of shorter waiting times at branch offices, securing elections, and expanding voting rights. 

Shorter waits

In her first campaign four years ago, Benson vowed customers would wait 30 minutes or less before being helped if she was elected. 

This year, records from the Secretary of State office show visits to branch offices are typically 20 minutes long. About 60 percent of visits can be online or at self-service stations. 

More drop boxes

Under Benson's office, her office provided and placed more than 1,000 secure drop boxes for absentee ballots. 

Benson implemented an absentee voting expansion allowing any voter to mail in or drop off their ballots. Voters can now download absentee ballot applications online. 

Conducted audits

Benson's office worked with local election officials to conduct hundreds of election audits following challenges during the 2020 presidential election. 

Controversies 

Benson spent most of her first term as secretary of state in the national spotlight after the 2020 Michigan election became a central argument from Trump supporters that the election was stolen. 

Sending absentee voter applications

Benson came under fire from the GOP when she used federal dollars to mail every registered voter an absentee ballot application in 2019. Republicans say it helped stoke Democratic turnout and may have jeopardized election security

In August 2020, a Court of Claims judge ruled Benson was within her rights to send the ballot applications to the state's 7.7 million registered voters. 

Branches backlogged

During the COVID-19 pandemic, SOS branch offices experienced significant backlogs. The appointment-only system implemented during that time was unpopular among Republicans and some Democrats

Backlash about the backlogs resulted in Benson’s office  increasing the number of daily appointments by 25 percent, or 350,000 slots statewide. Benson's office said employees' exposure to COVID-19 caused branches to shut down and caused the backlogs. 

Lawsuits

In June 2020, a conservative activist sued Benson and 16 clerks in federal court on claims that they failed to maintain the state's voter rolls accurately. In a July 2019 lawsuit, Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, sued Benson to try to stop the state's voter-approved redistricting commission.

Benson also has lost lawsuits over her efforts to ban guns from polling places, recommendation that clerks checking absentee ballots begin with the assumption that signatures are valid and protocols banning poll challengers from having cell phones and requiring them to be credentialed by her office.

Republican Kristina Karamo

Kristina Karamo

Karamo, 37, is a former community college instructor who worked in various educational and sales roles. 

Related: Kristina Karamo: Trump favorite. God-fearing single mom. Threat to democracy?

The Republican candidate ran for a seat on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners and volunteered on several political boards

Karamo was a poll challenger in Detroit, and rose to prominence after questioning Michigan's 2020 presidential election, claiming she witnessed fraud. Election officials have debunked the claim

The claims landed Karamo on national conservative talk shows and earned her an endorsement for Secretary of State from former President Donald Trump.

She has a degree in communications from Oakland University and a master’s in Christian apologetics from Biola University in California. 

Issues

Karamo has frequently called for a forensic audit of the 2020 election, investigations of voter fraud claims and reviews of voting machines used throughout the state.

Forensic audit

In December 2020, Karamo testified in a state legislative hearing and wrote an affidavit claiming she witnessed election fraud in Detroit. 

Karamo is among the "America First" coalition of Trump-aligned secretary of state candidates across the country. 

Election security 

According to Karamo's campaign, the Republican candidate will try to secure all election system-related data. 

Investigate fraud claims

One of Karamo's goals is to investigate all claims of voter fraud and "end politicized investigations or dismissing allegations of election corruption."

Open more branch offices

Karamo wants to open more SOS offices and remove "draconian rules and rigidity at the branch level." The Republican candidate believes branch-level rules tie local office managers' hands and create long wait times. 

Controversies 

Some of Karamo's extreme theories regarding the 2020 presidential election, comments on LGBTQ rights, a messy divorce, and support of political conspiracies have garnered much attention. 

The 2020 election

Karamo has received nationwide criticism regarding her belief that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. Some critics worry that if she became secretary of state, Karamo would block or fail to certify election results she disagreed with. 

Absentee ballots

In late October. Karamo filed a lawsuit to invalidate absentee ballots in Detroit — a legal action that seems destined to fail and would invalidate tens of thousands of ballots. Karamo says Detroit's system of counting votes is deeply flawed; an attorney for Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey called the suit "nothing more and nothing less than Jim Crow."  

LGBTQ and abortion commentary

Before running for office, Karamo broadcasted extreme commentary linking abortion to child sacrifice and claiming LGBTQ people deserve eternal damnation. 

Sponsor

QAnon

In October 2021, Karamo spoke at a conference organized by prominent QAnon conspiracy theory adherents, although her campaign said she did not support QAnon.

Troubled marriage

After beginning her campaign in 2021, Karamo's ex-husband sought more parenting time and alleged, in Oakland County court papers, that she once attempted to crash a car with her two children in it. 

The allegation goes on to say Karamo threatened to kill him and the children or herself. Karamo's ex-husband did not provide any evidence to support the allegation, which the website Jezebel reported . Karamo deemed the story "categorically fals

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