Court of Appeals gives OK to Benson mailing out 7.7M absentee ballot applications

Whitmer, SOS push for voter turnout in general election

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talk about absentee voting | Whitmer office photo

A Michigan Court of Appeals panel on Wednesday ruled that it was legal for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to send out unsolicited absentee voter ballot applications to the state’s 7.7 million registered voters.

In a 2-1 decision, the panel upheld a Court of Claims opinion in August in Davis v. Secretary of State

“As chief elections officer, with constitutional authority to ‘perform duties prescribed by law,’ the Secretary of State had the inherent authority to take measures to ensure that voters were able to avail themselves of the constitutional rights established by Proposal 3 regarding absentee voting,” Judges James Robert Redford and Jonathan Tukel wrote in the majority opinion. 

Judge Patrick Meter dissented.

“I am pleased that the court affirmed what we have known all along, that as the state’s chief election officer I have the authority and responsibility to ensure citizens know how to execute their right to vote,” Benson said.

Judge: Benson has authority to mail absentee ballot applications to voters

On Wednesday, Benson and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer focused in a press conference in Lansing on building Michiganders’ trust in the state’s election process, especially in absentee ballots, ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.

“This year we have emerged as a leader in facilitating safe elections during this pandemic,” Whitmer said. “By ensuring all Michiganders know how to vote safely in this November election is no doubt a herculean undertaking, and it’s going to require that leaders at all levels of government, our community leaders and commissioners and everyday Michiganders get out and spread the word.”

Benson stated that all Michigan has seen record voter turnout, especially in voters who choose to mail in their ballots, but said that the federal government and state legislature need to do more to ensure that the general election goes smoothly.

More than 2.2 million absentee ballot requests have been submitted as of Tuesday, according to the Secretary of State. Benson said there is expected to be more than 5 million voters this November. 

“Already we’ve had three successful elections this year which saw record turnout, record numbers of citizens voting by mail, and little to no crowding on Election Day. We are on track to replicate this success in November,” said Benson. “Our clerks are doing their part, working tirelessly as they have all year to juggle unprecedented challenges while embracing record turnout. But they and voters need support from the federal government and our state Legislature.”

Some clerks could get extra day to process ballots, but SOS says it’s not enough

On Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 757, which would allow for clerks in bigger cities and townships to begin pre-processing mail-in ballots for about 10 hours the day before the election. 

She reiterated that the bill is a “step in the right direction,” but is not enough to meet the demands of the upcoming election. 

Benson noted that a number of other states, including Florida, Ohio, Kentucky and North Carolina, all allow for more processing time than Michigan, even if the Senate’s bill was to pass.

In order to avoid possible U.S. Postal Service delays, Whitmer encouraged everyone who plans to vote from home to vote early, as soon as Sept. 24, either through their local clerk’s office or an absentee ballot.

“We’re entering the final stretch of what may be one of the most contentious election cycles that any of us have ever seen,” Benson said. “We can and we will ensure the voices of all of our citizens are heard and every vote is counted.”

Allison Donahue
Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.
Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.