Attack on voting rights threatens our very existence


Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

In 2010 – long before the Russians, Facebook, and American elections seemingly became joined at the hip, Jocelyn Benson published a book titled, “State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process.”

It would not become a New York Times best-seller, but the book was hardly written with that goal in mind, according to Benson, who in the fall of 2018 was elected Secretary of State in Michigan, defeating Republican challenger Mary Treder Lang.

The book, which came out two years before Benson was appointed dean of Wayne State University Law School, did serve a higher purpose, illustrating “best practices” from secretaries across the country and how they can work to “advance democracy and election reform.” Its scope was given high marks from a range of academics, including Heather Gerken of Yale Law School.

“Benson’s book is devoted to the understudied and often underappreciated role that the Secretary of State plays in our election system,” Gerken wrote in a review. “Benson had unprecedented access to Secretaries of State across the country, and I can think of no book that canvasses this topic so thoroughly. With its lively and engaging prose, the book is sure to become a seminal work on the subject.”

Last spring, just months after the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Benson sounded the alarm bells about an even greater attack, this time directed at limiting voting rights in Michigan – and beyond.

In a joint press conference with a diverse group of state leaders on April 15, Benson declared that dozens of Republican bills introduced in the state Legislature constitute an “anti-democratic, un-American attack” on voting rights.

“Michigan’s GOP legislators have joined a national, coordinated, partisan effort based on false information about the 2020 election to attack all citizens’ freedom to vote,” said Secretary Benson, a graduate of Harvard Law School. “The truth is that the 2020 election was secure, fair, and an accurate reflection of the will of the people, and legislation that seeks to undo the policies that brought about its record-setting turnout and success is anti-American and does harm to every Michigander.”

Benson was joined at the press conference by state Rep. Matt Koleszar, the Democratic vice chair of the Michigan House of Representatives Elections and Ethics Committee, and Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey. The group banded together as leaders across that nation continued to denounce attempts to restrict voting rights. Nationally, nearly 400 such bills have been introduced in 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Koleszar expressed his concern in frank terms: “Michiganders made their opinion on the expansion of voting rights in the state clear when they overwhelmingly voted in favor of Proposal 3 in 2018. For Michigan Republicans to utilize the disproportionate power they hold due to their gerrymandered districts in an attempt to roll back those rights flies in the face of democracy and our state constitution.”

Detroit City Clerk Winfrey, in turn, said: “These bills are an attack on election administrators and our collective democracy. They include countless ill-informed and nefarious measures that will negatively impact our elections and voters. For example, by banning pre-paid return postage on absentee ballot envelopes, the legislation discriminates against low-income citizens and prohibits a practice that I instituted 15 years ago which has continued without issue ever since.”

At a recent American Bar Association summit on racial equity and social justice issues, the topic of voter suppression efforts drew special attention. Deborah Archer, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, said though voter suppression is “heartbreaking and disgraceful,” it also is a “totally predictable” consequence to an “increase in political participation by people of color.”

That, in a political nutshell, is at the heart of the most recent campaign to limit access to the ballot box, serving as just one more shameful chapter in a never-ending attempt to subvert the election process.

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