This column originally appeared in The Detroit News.
Michigan has an election integrity problem. Without an urgent address from the secretary of state, it may boil over into an election integrity crisis. Worse, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and some prominent election officials appear to be intentionally undermining solutions.
Chronic election integrity debacles in places like Detroit, Flint and Southfield have Michigan voters questioning the outcome of an election that’s still six-and-a-half weeks away. Instead of fixing problems, Benson’s typical response has been to tell voters they should expect problems and delays on election night.
A recent survey asked Michigan voters — on a scale of 1 to 10 — how confident they are that the upcoming Nov. 3 election will be “fair.”
The answer, it turns out, was ‘not very confident at all.’ Almost 40% of voters ranked their confidence Benson will deliver a “fair” election at five or below.
Voters are paying attention.
In Flint, it took a lawsuit from the ACLU to force the City Clerk’s office to address disastrous problems with its handling of absentee ballot requests.
After the primary, the Genesee County Clerk's office excoriated local elections officials, detailing nearly two dozen serious problems related to the City’s counting of absentee ballots, and appalling failures by the local clerk to maintain the integrity of voters’ ballots.
Precincts were out of balance. Ballots were missing. Recounts were made virtually impossible.
In Southfield, the city clerk was bound over for trial this summer, facing felony forgery and other charges stemming from alleged unauthorized and inaccurate changes she made to absentee voter lists in 2018.
Flint and Southfield are amateur hour compared to what allegedly happened just weeks ago in Detroit.
In Detroit, sworn affidavits allege the city clerk and prominent Benson advisor Janice Winfrey’s office counted ballots more than once and sent thousands of absentee ballots to tabulators without checking them against voter lists.
An audit found 72% of Detroit’s absentee ballot counts and 46% of all precincts were wrong, disqualifying them from a recount.
In 2016, the presidential contest in Michigan was decided by just a few votes per precinct. Voters are understandably worried about fairness. Benson is apparently too busy keeping shoddy voter lists to care.
The Secretary of State was forced to admit last week she’d flooded the state early this summer with 500,000 absentee ballot applications sent to addresses where voters no longer lived — or to dead people.
Instead of removing the voters from the rolls or notifying local elections officials so they could clean their lists, Benson told state lawmakers via letter that she can't do anything until after the election in November.
Voters read the news out of Southfield, Flint, Detroit — they watch absentee ballot requests land in indiscriminate mailboxes, and they worry. And worse, they start to believe — with some reason — that the system is rigged. This is a corrosive trend.
Benson has failed to provide serious solutions to these threats to voting. Smiling at national TV cameras and saying in effect, “Oh, it will be bumpy” is no way to lead. She was elected, took an oath and is paid to fulfill obligations she is not meeting.
As a result of Benson’s chronically weak leadership, the current sloppiness in Michigan’s election system leaves Michigan votes in an “unequal evaluation,” a condition which a 7-2 majority of the Supreme Court declared is a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause in Bush v. Gore.
Delays, excuses and TV-appearances are not leadership, nor are they problem-solving. Voters worried their ballots will be mishandled or their votes changed by bureaucrats know this; sadly, Michigan’s secretary of state does not.
Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.