Election Day is less than a week away. How ready are Michigan poll workers to count the votes as they come in? Christy talks with MI Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, about the integrity of the election, last minute voting logistics, and defending her ban on open carry at polling places.


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Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State  We’re seeing record numbers of people voting and the urgency to insure everyone who has not yet voted and two million citizens already have.  But all of those who haven’t, making sure they know what they need to know to get their ballots returned, their ballots if they choose to vote in person on Election Day with what to expect then.  So, it’s just an increased uptick in the communications and the education and the outreach to voters and also in the support for our clerks.

Christy McDonald  What are some of the conversations that you’re having with other secretaries of state around the country?  Just in terms of the importance of making sure that everything is right this election cycle, especially because of a lot of the feelings that are out there, a lot of the misinformation that is out there about the integrity of the election.

Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State  Well yeah, that’s exactly right.  A lot of our conversations are about specifically that.  We’re doing so much work both behind the scenes and I have done with our local clerks for months and we’re ready to go.  And so really the conversations are how do we make sure voters have faith in their process?  How do we fight back against any misperceptions that threaten the integrity of the process?  How do we prepare for candidates saying things that maybe aren’t true about the process?  And so, it’s really a bipartisan collaborative effort among us all secretaries of state, because so many of us are dealing with the same misinformation, challenges of perceptions and all the rest.  And we’re also doing a lot of the same work to really shore up the process, ensure that every vote counts.

Christy McDonald  So before we talk about safety of voting and also really the timeliness of the results, I want to talk about the absentee and the number of absentee voters that we’ve seen here in Michigan. And if people still, this week before the election, what are you seeing and what should people still do if they have their ballot?

Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State  Well, if you have your ballot, you can return it in person at your local clerk’s office or to your local Dropbox prior to 8 p.m. on Election Day and it will count.  You can also track it to ensure it’s been received at Michigan.gov / vote and also get a location of your local clerk and local drop boxes at that same web site.  If you don’t have a ballot, you can still vote early.  You just have to go to your clerk’s office really at this point to get that ballot to apply to have it.  And then you could fill it out and return it right then and there.  As long as that’s done prior to Monday or prior to Election Day, you’re good to go

Christy McDonald  Explain the process of when the clerks get to start to open, prepare those absentee ballots and start to count them.

Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State  Well at 7:00 a.m. on Election Day, there will be groups of election workers all across the state and every community coming together.  They’ll be sequestered until the polls close at 8:00 p.m., tabulating ballots throughout the day and ultimately getting ready for us to report our results as soon as possible.  And so, they’ve already been trained, they’re ready to go. We’ve got double and sometimes some places triple the number of machines to tabulate ballots than we had even back in August.  So, we’ve really built an infrastructure that’s ready for these millions of absentee ballots to be processed and tabulated as efficiently as possible.

Christy McDonald  You did recently ban open carry in polling places and there is now a lawsuit challenging that, but I think that we’ll be seeing playing out this week.  Explain to voters what the legal precedent was for you to come out and ban open carry.

Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State  Well, I’m the chief election officer for the state of Michigan and in that regard, my authority is well grounded in Michigan law to supervise our elections, to protect particularly the sanctity of the polling place.  We train poll workers, we set other expectations and regulations and guidelines.  It’s also not okay to take photos of other voters, for example at the polls.  So that guidance, those directives that we issue to clerks are designed to ensure the law is followed.  And in this case the law is a ban on voter intimidation.  We will not stand or tolerate any voter intimidation, threats or harassment on Election Day.  And we need to define for our clerks, for our local election workers exactly what that means.  In our view and my view and in the view of the attorney general and the Michigan State Police, the brandishing of firearms in a polling place would amount to that type of threat or intimidation.

Christy McDonald  After you came out with this ban though, we started to hear from law enforcement, some local law enforcement saying, “Well, we’re not going to be enforcing this ban.”  And that then gives concern among voters and the people who are working at the polling places.  And I want to read you a quote from the Lapeer County Sheriff, Scott McKenna, who came out this weekend and said, “You just created a problem, all you did was throw gasoline on a fire and create a storm that didn’t need to exist, saying that this ban just adds confusion.”  What’s your response to that?

Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State  It’s actually exactly the opposite, the guidance actually provides clarity to clerks about what to do.  Call those who are, who take an oath to protect you and voters and let them know this intimidation is happening at the polls.  And I’m proud that the Michigan State Police, as well as the majority of local law enforcement all across the state recognizes that and that this is a furtherance of their duty to protect people.  Now, unfortunately we’re in a moment particularly this close to a nationwide election where things become politicized.  We’re also in a moment where there are threats and violence and hateful rhetoric increasing in our state, as we’ve seen in recent weeks.  So, we’ve got to take all that into account and recognize that my job is just to protect the vote, protect our voters, protect the sanctity of those polling places on Election Day, which is what this guidance is furthering.

Christy McDonald  Talk about the timeliness of results.  When can we expect to see results in Michigan?

Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State  We will start to see soon after the polls close.  Some results being announced, but, of course the full tabulation of every ballot is going to take some time.  And so, from the moment the polls close, until we have that full unofficial tabulation, which may take a few days because we’ll have millions of ballots to go through and tabulate securely.  We’re going to do our best, I’m going to do my best to tell the public exactly where we are in the process.  So that we both ensure accuracy and transparency, but we also want to avoid a scenario where in any race you see this back and forth of who’s won, who hasn’t.  And that really creates a sense of uncertainty or confusion among and really lack of faith in the results themselves.  So, my focus is on making sure the end results are accurate, that the process is methodical and secure, and that we’re doing everything as transparently as possible to instill confidence in the public.  That their vote will be counted and that ultimately the results will reflect an accurate count of the will of the people.