This column originally appeared in the Detroit News.
Jocelyn Benson literally wrote the book on being a secretary of state. Just ask her.
She’s doing more than write about the position now, but new records emerging as part of a lawsuit in the city of Detroit challenge Benson’s seriousness as a constitutional officer. They also leave Benson facing a pair of startling questions: does she actually believe what she wrote, and if so, why isn’t she practicing what she preached?
On page 116 of Benson’s tome, "State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process," she writes that "the Secretary (of State) is primarily responsible for maintaining, managing or removing voters from voter registration lists. It is critical that, in furtherance of this authority, they work to maintain the accuracy of the data in the voter file."
It’d be hard for anyone to argue with this expert direction. Maintaining a clean and accurate voter file is the foundational step towards conducting and ensuring clean and accurate elections.
One could reasonably argue it’s a direction she’d apply to any elections officer legally tasked with maintaining a clean voter file and ensuring election integrity.
Turns out the only person willing to take issue with Benson’s advice may be Benson herself — and, well, Janice Winfrey.
The secretary of state suddenly finds herself connected to a swirling court scandal thanks to her bizarre decision to appoint the disgraced Detroit city clerk to a statewide elections leadership post.
Last February, when unveiling the Election Modernization Advisory Committee, Benson praised Winfrey, declaring she was grateful the clerk “agreed to come together to ensure we (make it easier to vote and harder to cheat), modernizing our elections, applying best practices and making Michigan a national model for clean, efficient and secure elections.”
The move was laughable then. It’s dangerous now.
According to court records, Winfrey is incapable of any of that, and spectacularly failing to do the foundational work Benson insists in her book is “critical” for an elections officer.
Just weeks before the holidays, a group called the Public Interest Legal Foundation filed a federal lawsuit in Detroit over the potential for widespread and rampant voter fraud within Detroit city limits.
The suit stems from the group’s analysis of the city’s voter rolls that found 2,503 dead people still listed as eligible to vote and 4,788 voters registered more than once. The foundation, which specializes in election integrity across the country, also identified more than 16,000 mystery voters who simply lack key pieces of information — raising serious doubts over whether these voters exist or ever registered at all.
Worst of all, the numbers indicated Detroit boasts almost 34,000 more registered voters than living adults.
According to records, the foundation contacted Winfrey and her staff repeatedly in 2019 to discuss their findings and to identify solutions to ensure election integrity in Detroit, but they were ignored or dismissed at every turn. The voter file is in such disarray, and Winfrey so uninterested in doing her job, they’ve filed suit and exposed the mess in court.
At a recent press conference, Benson was asked by a reporter what she thought of the lawsuit and court records that demonstrate the potential for voter fraud in Detroit on a massive scale. She gave them the old "no comment."
In the weeks since, there’s been no change in Detroit’s disastrous voter rolls, no change in Benson’s Election Modernization task force, and no change in Winfrey’s status as the secretary’s right-hand-woman. Not only hasn’t Winfrey been asked by the secretary to clean her voter rolls, or to step down from her statewide leadership post — there isn’t even any indication Benson’s asked her about the lawsuit.
Benson says maintaining clean voter rolls is “critical” for an elections officer — and for a secretary of state. She’s failed.
Benson appointed Winfrey to help “make Michigan a national model for clean, efficient, and secure elections.” Court records prove how poorly that’s going.
Benson insists she wants to make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.” Strike three.
Which brings us back to our original questions. Does Benson actually believe a word she wrote, or is she too incompetent to take her own advice?
Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.