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Where they stand: Michigan Secretary of State candidates

Oct. 2018: Benson, Treder Lang outline visions for Michigan secretary of state
Oct. 2018: Jocelyn Benson: Fix waits, transparency of Michigan secretary of state
Oct. 2018: Mary Treder Lang: Improve service, voter rolls of Michigan secretary of state

Nominees for Michigan’s next Secretary of State will be decided this weekend at Republican and Democratic state party conventions.

Bridge Magazine asked the presumed Democratic nominee, Jocelyn Benson, former dean of the Wayne State University Law School, and the two GOP candidates — Mary Treder Lang, a CPA from Grosse Pointe Farms, and Michigan State University faculty member Joseph Guzman — to detail their positions on two elections-related ballot issues: a plan to create an independent state redistricting commission, which will be on the November ballot, and broader election reform issues.

Guzman was the only one of the three who did not respond to Bridge’s questions.

Update: Treder Lang nabs Republican SOS nomination, will face Democrat Benson
Related: Republicans outraise Democrats in bids for Michigan statewide offices

Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot, who had been seeking the Republican nomination, recently withdrew from the race.

Candidates’ answers are below. They have been lightly edited for grammar and length.

QUESTION: The Secretary of State’s office will play a significant role in a redistricting commission if the Voters Not Politicians ballot proposal is adopted. Do you plan to vote for the redistricting ballot initiative? Why, or why not? How do you think Michigan’s legislative districts should be drawn?


Jocelyn Benson: Yes, I do plan to vote in favor of the redistricting initiative. I believe districts should be drawn fairly, in ways that are balanced and do not favor one party over another. An open, transparent redistricting process based on objective criteria and citizen input can ensure fair legislative districts in Michigan.

As such, I have been a longtime advocate of citizen-led redistricting, which is at the heart of this proposal. Giving citizens the tools and ability to draw their own legislative districts is the best way to avoid the inherent conflict of interest in our current system where legislators draw their own districts — and those of their friends in Congress — enabling them to choose which voters they include and exclude. This leads to districts often drawn in funny “gerrymandered” ways to lead to predetermined partisan outcomes that tend to favor one party or the other. There should be no place for that in our democracy.

In 2011, I ran a nonpartisan Citizens Redistricting Competition, which gave Michigan citizens access to the same software and data that state legislators had and invited them to draw congressional districts that would be fair, competitive and comply with state and federal law. The winning map, judged by a bipartisan panel that included former Republican Congressman Joe Schwarz, was created by a then-college student who was chair of the College Republicans at Central Michigan University. Though we submitted his map to the Legislature for consideration, they did not select it. But the process demonstrated that when given the opportunity to draw fair districts, citizens embrace this responsibility.


Mary Treder Lang: I plan to vote no on the Voters Not Politicians ballot initiative because this ballot initiative is made to look like “election reform” but is simply another attempt at a partisan power grab by out-of-state liberal donors to change our political lines and radically change our state constitution. Their scheme would abolish the nonpartisan rules established nearly 40 years ago by the Michigan Supreme Court to guide the redistricting process, which was adopted into state law to ensure fairness and accountability. This group of liberals has had difficulty lately winning elections in fairly drawn districts, so they are trying to rig the system and change the rules. The task of redistricting will fall into the hands of random appointees, instead of representatives elected by the people. Lastly, this ballot initiative will cost Michiganders additional tax dollars due to the 13-member commission salaries and the hiring of consultants to assist the political neophyte commissioners in drawing new district lines based upon community of interest parameters.

Joseph Guzman: Guzman did not respond to Bridge’s request.

QUESTION: If Voters Not Politicians’ proposal is approved in November, what steps would you take to ensure that both parties would have confidence in your role in the process?


Jocelyn Benson: As Michigan’s next Secretary of State, I will ensure that the voters’ intent behind this proposal — to remove politics and ensure a citizen-led nonpartisan redistricting process — comes to fruition. To accomplish this, transparency will be key and citizen engagement will be critical.

I will be committed to administering the process in a way that invites citizens into it, actively promotes their involvement and encourages citizens all across the state from every demographic to apply and be a part of a historic opportunity.

I believe that sunlight is the best way to build confidence in the process — not just among partisan party leaders, but also amongst citizens. To that end, I will ensure that the commission is built and administered in a way that is transparent. I will work with the press to invite coverage and commentary to illuminate the selection process. We will hold community conversations around the state to shed light on the procedures and invite feedback and promote awareness.

We will also work to ensure the accuracy of all applications to the commission and put procedures in place to verify the statements and representations made by applicants throughout the process.


Mary Treder Lang: If Voters Not Politicians’ (proposal) is approved in November, I would make sure that I follow the rule of law and lead with integrity in creating the representation of the newly formed commission. I will ensure that every applicant will be thoroughly reviewed so our citizens will be confident that their system is as fair as possible.

Joseph Guzman: Guzman did not respond to Bridge’s request.

QUESTION: A ballot committee called Promote the Vote hopes to make the November ballot with an initiative to reform Michigan’s elections process, including allowing no-reason absentee voting and making it easier to register to vote. Do you agree with these reforms? Why, or why not? If it makes the ballot, would you vote for the Promote the Vote proposal?


Jocelyn Benson: Yes, if Promote the Vote makes it to the ballot, I will vote for it. I believe in making it easier to vote and harder to cheat, and this proposal does both of those things. It includes many voting policies that I have long supported, such as no-reason absentee voting, early voting and ensuring our military men and women serving overseas have their ballots counted. It also addresses the security of our elections by calling for post-election audits.

If the proposal does pass, I will be prepared on day one to ensure the provisions are implemented in a way that ensures access to the vote and preserves the security and integrity of the process. Having authored a book on best practices for state Secretaries of State in guarding the elections process, I have worked with Secretaries on both sides of the aisle as they’ve implemented similar reforms in their states. I will benefit from their expertise and from the nearly two decades I have spent working on voting rights and election law issues as an attorney and policy advocate. Knowing that each community in our state has unique challenges and varying resources, I also will convene a bipartisan task force of election administrators to help ensure the will of the voters is followed and the reforms are implemented consistently and efficiently throughout the state.


Mary Treder Lang: I do not agree with the reforms from this ballot initiative because two-thirds of this proposal are already required by state law, including: secret ballots, military service members receiving their ballots 45 days prior to the election (also required by federal law) and post-elections audits. The out-of-state liberals are using these items to cover up their intention of the ballot initiative, which is to create easy and early voting to open the door to voter fraud. Additionally, shortening the time period between the voter registration deadline and Election Day and allowing same-day registration would not give the Secretary of State and local clerks enough time to detect any suspicious activity or potential cyberattacks. It should also be pointed out that Michigan's voter registration rates are among the highest in the nation. As it is, Michigan already has more voters registered than eligible citizens, plus our decentralized voting system could disadvantage voters in small communities whose clerks often literally work out of their homes. The last thing Michiganders need is government forcing another mandate on its citizens with automatic voter registration. If this makes the ballot, I would not vote for the Promote the Vote proposal.

Joseph Guzman: Guzman did not respond to Bridge’s request.

Related: 2018 Bridge Michigan Voter Guide: Links to our relevant election coverage
Related: Where they stand: Michigan Attorney General candidates
Sept. 2018: Where Michigan governor candidates stand on Obamacare, other health issues
August 2018: Where Michigan governor primary winners Schuette and Whitmer stand

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