Jocelyn Benson considering Secretary of State run

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Jocelyn Benson, former dean of the Wayne State University Law School, is considering another run for Michigan Secretary of State in 2018.

“If that’s where I can play a role in having improved elections, then that’s definitely on the table,” said Benson, a Democrat who ran for the post in 2010 but lost to current Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who can’t run again because of term limits.

In an interview with The Detroit News at Saturday’s Michigan Democratic Party convention in Detroit, Benson said she’ll likely decide on a run by late summer and has a renewed interest in the job because of “issues that were revealed” during a partial recount of Michigan’s Nov. 8 presidential election.

“I think we were very close to becoming the Florida of 2016,” Benson said, referencing a contested recount in that state after the 2000 presidential election that was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, “and I want to do everything I can to make sure that we reform our voting process to be one that’s secure and open to all.”

Benson, 39, is a Harvard Law School graduate who served as WSU law school dean from 2012 through September 2016, when she stepped down to serve as CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality – a venture founded by real estate developer and philanthropist Stephen M. Ross.

At RISE, Benson has worked with professional athletes, sports leagues and others to try to improve race relations and drive social progress. She recently moderated a Super Bowl week panel in Houston that featured Detroit Lions players Anquan Boldin, Glover Quin, Johnson Bademosi and James Ihedigbo.

Benson said she has also worked with other Detroit sports figures like Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and players Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris.

“I love what I’m doing, but the problems that were revealed this past November made me feel that it’s time for me and others to do everything we can to modernize our elections and the way we deliver state services across the board,” she said.

The partial hand recount of Michigan’s presidential election, requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein but later halted by state and federal courts, has prompted calls for reform. A state audit also revealed an “abundance of human errors” by poll workers in Detroit. Statewide, roughly 10 percent of all precincts in counties where the recount had begun were not recountable because poll books didn’t match ballots or containers were not properly sealed.

Johnson last month said she is developing plans to expand routine, post-election audits. Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas last week called for changes in state law to improve the recount process.

During the Saturday Michigan GOP convention, 62-year-old Johnson said her next move will be an elected office but she declined to say what job she will pursue.

While the 2018 general election is nearly 21 months away, potential candidates for statewide posts are beginning to position themselves for possible runs. While primary voters will decide gubernatorial nominees, Democrat and Republicans will pick their nominees for attorney general and secretary of state at party conventions.

On the Republican side, sources say potential candidates for secretary of state include state Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township, and state Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, a Democrat, may also consider a run but said Monday she is focused on serving her constituents.

“I’ve been approached by many people, having administered at least 15 elections in Ingham County and then of course going through the presidential recount,” Byrum told The News. “I’m flattered to have my name mentioned.”

Benson lost to Johnson by roughly six percentage points in a 2010 election that saw GOP Gov. Rick Snyder beat Democratic nominee and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero by 18 points.

Benson has raised her professional profile since then and in 2015 became the second youngest woman ever inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. She also made national headlines last year when she completed the Boston Marathon while eight months pregnant.

Staff Writer Michael Gerstein contributed