Benson, election chiefs push for mail-in voting amid COVID-19 crisis, but Trump opposes

President Donald J. Trump addresses his remarks prior to signing H.R. 1327; an act to permanently authorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Monday, July 29, 2019, in the Rose Garden of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian via Flickr Public Domain

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and two of her national colleagues on Wednesday pointed to voting by mail as the way to ensure the right to vote during the COVID-19 crisis.

“That, to me, is the best way of making sure our voter rolls are clean, are accurate, and that we have close to or full registration of all of our citizens,” Benson said.

Jocelyn Benson in Detroit, April 11, 2019 | Ken Coleman

In 2018, Michigan voters approved Proposal 3, a voting rights constitutional amendment that allows early voting by absentee for any reason, as well as voting early either in person or by mail.

Benson was joined by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold in a tele-conference discussion hosted by the Washington-D.C. progressive think tank the Center for American Progress.

Wisconsin held its presidential primary election on Tuesday amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Many voters felt that they were forced to choose between their health and their civic duty. 

Many polling stations were closed in the state’s biggest cities — Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine — and there was a shortage of poll workers, the Wisconsin Examiner reported. In Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, the number of polling stations was cut from 180 to five.

Racial disparities illustrated by Milwaukee’s long voter lines

The state’s governor, Tony Evers, a Democrat, argued against holding the election during the heightened COVID-19 crisis and ordered a delay until June 9. However, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled otherwise. The conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decided that in-person voting would be carried out.

“We can minimize the lines and the crowds on Election Day,” Padilla said about mail-in voting. “Just look at Wisconsin and the scenes at Wisconsin polling places [Tuesday].”

Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington — have universal vote by mail and ballots are automatically sent to qualified voters. 

Benson said Michigan has benefited from voter-approved election reform measures that have worked well for years in other states. 

She also called for an end to “partisanship” in state legislatures and on Capitol Hill when it comes to implementing policy and laws to help election reforms operate smoothly. Benson, for example, has asked the GOP-led Michigan Legislature to create a law that will allow clerks to process ballots early to speed up counting on Election Day. The House and Senate have not addressed the issue so far.

Sharon Dolente: Voting in Michigan has never been this easy 

“What we are talking about now is good government solutions that voters can benefit from and what voters in every state have benefitted from,” Benson said.  

Other ideas promoted by the trio of state elections chiefs included online voting, teen pre-registration and same-day registration. The Democrats also called on state and federal lawmakers to appropriate additional funding to address state election preparedness during the pandemic.

“We can’t wait until September or October to ramp up for the general election,” Padilla said. “We need state and federal action now.” 

On March 27, President Donald Trump signed into law a $2 trillion stimulus package to help boost the nation’s sagging economy and fight the devastating spread of COVID-19. It included $400 million for election preparation. 

Updated: Trump signs behemoth $2T COVID-19 response bill

Much of it are grants designed to help states “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally” for the 2020 federal election cycle. States are required to file reports with the federal Election Assistance Commission explaining how they spent the money and how it was related to the coronavirus emergency.

When a question from an online participant raised concerns about election cyber security, Griswold pointed out that mail-in balloting is a form of voting that doesn’t involve internet technology.  

“The great thing about mail-in ballots is they cannot be hacked,” Griswold said.

Some Democrats want to see a provision in the next COVID-19 stimulus for universal mail-in balloting for the November election, given that there’s still no cure or vaccine for the disease and medical experts warn it could resurface in the fall — even if it’s contained in the spring or summer.

However, Trump has in recent days railed against mail-in voting, falsely claiming that it leads to fraud, and arguing he believes it will hurt the Republican Party.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.