In an exclusive interview with The ’Gander, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson talked first elections to pandemic-era polls. Here’s how Michigan will set the stage for 2020.
LANSING, MI — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson got acquainted with voting booths long before she was eligible to cast her first ballot.
“I remember being too young to vote but watching my mom getting ready to vote,” Benson told The ’Gander, recalling her mother’s attention to both the ballot and her appearance as she readied herself for the polls. “It was very exciting.”
Secretary Benson is the product of parents who both worked as special education teachers. She said their example showed her the importance of learning and voting at an early age, making her view choosing leaders “like a holiday.”
Benson spent her high school years lobbying local legislators for better education policies. When the future politician voted in her first election, she didn’t have her sights set on becoming Michigan’s Secretary of State — yet. However, public service was already on her radar by the time she first cast her vote.
“I actually ran for office when I was a college student in Wellesy [College in Massachusetts],” Benson said, recalling that her first time voting included seeing her name on the ballot as a college sophomore. “I was the first college student elected [to the Town Meeting] and, to this day, there’s still a student voice represented there.”
Leading by Example
Benson’s legacy of leading by example may have begun in her youth, but it continues on in her tenure as Michigan’s Secretary of State.
Her office is showing the country how to successfully run safe and secure elections during a pandemic.
“People are hearing those who have a very large platform and a large Twitter following talking about how voting by mail is not secure or can lead to fraud,” she said. “And that ignores mountains of evidence over nearly 20 years of implementing people voting by mail, including members of our military, in ways that are very safe and secure.”
Michigan voters recently broke records with more than 1.6 million people requesting absentee ballots. More than 300,000 of those Michiganders have already completed and returned their ballots ahead of Election Day on August 4.
Benson said the coronavirus pandemic offers a unique opportunity to include more Michiganders than ever in the electoral process. Her role as chief election official for the state also requires her to be chief educator, ensuring Michiganders understand their rights and the election process, she told The ’Gander.
“There’s a need to proactively educate citizens on the safety and security of the process,” she said. “Democracy is very much about enabling voters’ voices and the power that citizens have in determining who has power in our country.”
The Michigan primary is Tuesday, August 4. Registered voters can go to their assigned polling location to cast their ballots. Early voting is available now through August 3 at local county clerks’ offices. Find the information you need to know ahead of the primaries in our Election Day guide.
Michiganders who prefer to stay home and avoid crowds can request absentee ballots online at Michigan.gov/vote.