Many are probably wondering what exactly a Secretary of State does for the citizens of Michigan. Among the many other responsibilities the Secretary of State has, they manage state government services like issuing and renewing state REAL IDs and drivers’ licenses, renewing vehicle tags, title transfer and vehicle registration, and overseeing customer service operations. Another important part of the Secretary of State’s job is election services, such as providing resources for voters like finding their polling place, registering to vote either in person or via absentee ballot, and supporting accessible voting.
All of these responsibilities affect the daily lives of state residents, but who exactly is Michigan’s Secretary of State? Currently, Michigan’s 43rd Secretary of State is Jocelyn Benson who was elected November 2018. Secretary Benson is a graduate of Harvard Law School who specializes in civil rights law, education law and election law. She is also a military spouse and a co-founder of the Military Spouses of Michigan, a network for service members to receive support for their spouses and children.
According to the Michigan Department of State, her administration has improved the overall customer experience for residents when interacting with state agencies, expanded the number of state services available online, and installed over 160 self-service stations statewide in areas such as grocery stores, which help customers print vehicle registrations and temporary drivers’ licenses on the spot effectively ending the “take a ticket-and-wait” system. Because of Secretary Benson’s actions, residents can conduct more transactions with agencies online, and when they do have to visit government offices, customers often conclude their business in less than a half hour and no longer face hour-long waiting lines.
She intends to further improve services for Michigan residents by launching two new mobile offices to serve Central and Western Michigan. These mobile offices will assist those who are experiencing homelessness, rural residents who have difficulties with internet access, senior centers, foster care facilities, and various other communities. Secretary Benson also advocated for government transparency on all levels within the state, from the legislature, the governor’s office, and even her own department.
Government transparency helps to build up trust with state residents which is important given that in this role, she is also responsible for ensuring elections for residents in Kent County and across Michigan are safe, secure and accessible for all. Throughout her time as Secretary of State, Benson has been awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her work during the 2020 election, has rejected state legislature revisions that would have restricted voting rights, and has also been recognized for improving accessibility for disabled voters and innovation to election cybersecurity.
This year, Benson has advocated for nonpartisan legislation for statewide elections. These nonpartisan proposals are to ensure that Michigan voters election results are available on election night by allowing preprocessing of absentee ballots, strengthening the security of elections with consistent and sufficient funding, increasing penalties for anyone who threatens, or harasses election workers, and protecting the voting rights of military service members and their spouses.