This column originally appeared in The Detroit News.
Donald Trump lost Michigan; we accept this.
Trump’s loss and the swirl of controversy around it has handed Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson a unique opportunity, the no risk kind, and all upside with voters.
Will Benson seize this opportunity? To borrow an election night colloquialism, early returns don’t look good.
Let’s start with the President. The results are not yet certified, and various legal processes are rightly playing out. None of these will change the outcome. The President lost Michigan by roughly 146,000 votes.
The margin is sufficient to withstand any challenge before election boards or the courts, though the President is certainly entitled to avail himself of his constitutional due process. Demands that people verbalize a bended knee are nothing less than a crypto-fascist threat to our republic. If you hate due process, you hate our Bill of Rights.
The finality of the outcome, though, does not mean the vote-counting process was without flaws or that Benson can dismiss the possibility that negligence – perhaps even isolated instances of election fraud – occurred. Refusing to fix these problems and ensure better is voter disenfranchisement.
This is where the Secretary’s opportunity awaits.
Most of the outstanding concerns lie in the city of Detroit, and at the feet of city clerk Janice Winfrey.
Just a few years ago, our own Lieutenant Governor, Garlin Gilchrist, lambasted Detroit’s handling of elections, calling the city clerk’s chronic mishandling of elections a “catastrophe,” and demanded accountability. None has come, and allegations continue to swirl.
The Secretary of State should seriously and publicly dig into credible allegations of fraud and alleged mistakes. Numerous affidavits and witness statements deserve an answer and a public one. She’d do well to address less severe claims and charges, and to answer them carefully and thoroughly.
Benson has the professional responsibility to combat voters’ distrust of the process and to protect their franchise. To do anything less threatens to suppress future voter participation as her inactions threaten a critical democratic institution.
Where mistakes were made, let’s identify and fix them.
Where fraud was committed – on however small a scale – let’s hold miscreants criminally accountable.
Where allegations were unfounded, spun out of misunderstanding, or were even malicious, let’s unpack and explain them publicly and deliberately to set the record unmistakably straight.
Benson has thus far failed to meet the opportunity.
Instead of giving voters a look into the process, protecting their franchise, and building their confidence in the integrity of Michigan elections, her staff even stood by as Detroit elections officials taped pizza boxes over windows to stop the public from catching a glimpse of the way officials were counting ballots.
Trust dies in shadows and is restored only with the light of radical transparency.
If her office is investigating allegations of impropriety, she hasn’t been upfront about it. There’s no indication she’s taking them seriously.
Instead of transparency, she’s irresponsibly handing voters more reasons to doubt outcomes.
In 2016, Benson’s political mentor Mark Brewer had something to say about the importance of voters’ trust in the vote-counting process, too. The former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, then hired by a 3rd party candidate who’d won only 1% of the vote, demanded not just an investigation into alleged irregularities – he insisted the state do a massive statewide recount.
No one has asked for a statewide recount here, and the Secretary of State certainly needn’t pursue one, but Brewer touched on something valid and valuable during his quixotic campaign.
“In the end, this is about people trusting the system,” Brewer said. “We have no proof (of fraud). I’ve been very clear about that. There’s a possibility of fraud. There’s a possibility of manipulation.”
Where those possibilities exist, he argued, they’re worth exploring and (hopefully) dismissing.
Donald Trump lost Michigan. We don’t need a recount. Transparency and accountability? Madame Secretary, that is the minimum our institutions, our voters, and your oath requires.