Benson testifies to Congress, kicks off bipartisan voting rights tour

    President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, Marian Robinson, join Rep. John Lewis, and former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush during a walk across Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" march from Selma to Montgomery, in Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7, 2015 | Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

    Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is joining with Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill on a bipartisan, three-day voting rights tour that starts Thursday in his state.

    That comes after Benson testified Wednesday on election security to the U.S. Committee on House Administration.

    Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson | Ken Coleman

    Merrill, a Republican, and Benson, a Democrat, are hosting the event that 18 other secretaries of state from across the nation are scheduled to attend. The Advance first reported in April that the tour was in the works. In total, eight Democrats and 12 Republicans will learn the history of the voting rights movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    “This is a unique opportunity to bring a nationwide group of state chief election officers together to learn about both our sobering history and promising future here in Alabama and, by extension, the country,” Merrill said in a statement.

    The tour features key stops for the voting rights movement at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. Officials will cross the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

    “Together, this group of leaders is responsible for administering elections in 20 states across the country,” Benson said. “I hope this nonpartisan tour inspires us to come together while we learn about the hard-won struggle for voting rights that continues to impact our work in elections every day.”

    John Merrill

    The National Association of Secretaries of State provided logistical and organizational support for this history tour in conjunction with the Alabama and Michigan departments of State. The Center for Secure and Modern Elections, Southern Poverty Law Center, Ford Foundation and Democracy Fund provided funding. Benson has been a member of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s board of directors.

    In her Capitol Hill testimony, Benson said the federal government is critical for election security.  

    “That role best manifests in three forms: resources, setting standards and establishing protections and setting a cooperative and bipartisan tone,” she said.

    She talked about securing elections in Michigan, including voter registration and data, the process of voting and the transmission of election results. Benson also testified about the importance of upgrading voting technology, auditing election results, improving reporting of election night results, preparing for emergencies and ensuring accurate information sharing with the public.

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    Susan J. Demas is an 18-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.

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