Last week Equality Michigan, a statewide nonprofit LGBTQ-advocacy organization, and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson co-hosted a Tele-Town Hall event to remind voters how to prepare for upcoming elections and to highlight pro-equality moves and initiatives the SOS has rolled out. Among other topics, Benson spoke about the moves she's taken to ensure that gender markers on identification cards can be changed for people who are not cisgender, the recently created Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to redistrict the state's gerrymandered districts, and changes in voting rights that will impact upcoming elections — like every Michigan citizen's right to vote by mail.
"That is crucial to ensuring that as this pandemic continues, no citizen will have to choose between their health or their vote and everyone can vote without leaving their home. … Ninety-nine percent of the electorate was able to vote from home, ensuring that both were still counted and fast," Benson said in reference to mail-in votes. "In fact, voter turnout was twice as high as in past local elections — 25 percent when it normally hovers around 12 percent."
Michiganders gained this ability when citizens amended the state's Constitution via a ballot initiative in the 2018 November election.
Today, this issue came into the national spotlight when Benson was falsely accused by President Donald Trump of sending "absentee ballots to 7.7 million voters in Michigan ahead of the August primaries," according to an MLive report.
"In a now-deleted tweet, Trump called Benson a 'rogue Secretary of State' and threatened to withhold funding to the state for attempted voter fraud," the report continued.
Benson promptly responded with a message about the applications, not absentee ballots, that had been sent out.
Community Forum Highlights
In addition to outlining more information about the mail-in vote process, Benson answered community questions during the event. Notably related to LGBTQ issues, Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott asked on behalf of Michigan's transgender community, "Am I still eligible to vote as trans if my ID doesn't match gender identity?"
"Yes, anyone has the ability to vote in Michigan, you don't need a photo ID even to vote. You can vote in person, and if you don't want to use your ID or for whatever reason choose not to show it or are uncomfortable showing it, you can simply request an affidavit to complete and sign and get your ballot," Benson said. "If you want to vote by mail as well you have the right to do so, and you can request to vote by mail either by contacting your clerk or going to our website, Michigan.gov/vote in order to see information and application to get your ballot right there. So, no one should feel that for whatever reason their ID will prevent them from voting."
Benson also outlined how to join the Redistricting Commission to end statewide gerrymandering, stating that almost every registered Michigan voter is eligible. June 1 is the application deadline.
"But essentially, if you haven't run for office in the last six years and you're not a lobbyist or you don't work for a lobbyist, it's likely that you're eligible to apply," Benson said. "If you have any questions, even after going to the website or completing the application, you can also email [email protected] with your specific scenario and our team will provide whatever information they can."
When asked what could be a valuable takeaway from Michigan's May election to use in August and November, Benson emphasized that the success of the state's mail-in ballot system has only served to highlight the effectivity of, and voter excitement around the method. She stressed that this will be a guaranteed method to vote in upcoming elections and that "these elections will happen" and "they will happen in time," citing that citizens can track the process the whole way through by contacting their local clerk or an SOS branch office.
Benson also touched upon election misinformation efforts that her office is working to dismantle.
"What worries me most is the spread of misinformation and voters' rights. It is going to happen in Michigan. There will be strong, well-funded efforts, national, perhaps international, effort to try and confuse voters about their votes and their rights in our state, and it's going to be up to us to fight through that and ensure that we're able to fully use and our voters can fully use the tools at their disposal to vote, to vote successfully and from a position of being well informed," Benson said. "And only then will we be able to ensure that the election will be an accurate representation of all the people. … So now we're working to operate toward that goal."
Listen to the audio of the full Town Hall event here.