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Secretary of State Benson won't testify before Senate on Michigan's election audits

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A Republican senator is renewing requests for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to testify before the Senate Oversight Committee, noting the Detroit Democrat has accepted other invitations at the national level. 

Sen. Ed McBroom, the Vulcan Republican who chairs the Oversight Committee, sent a letter to Benson Monday after her staff informed him that she would not testify on the state's election audit process at an April 20 hearing. 

Instead, Michigan's director of elections, Jonathan Brater, would testify because he "directly manages" the services the committee will be discussing. 

"I believe it is imperative that the state’s chief election officer, ultimately elected to and charged with making the final decisions, be present as well," McBroom said. 

The Senate committee chairman noted he had offered to hold a pre-committee meeting with Benson to inform her of the questions and objectives of the committee and gave his cellphone number to Benson's staff in an attempt to reach her. 

"It is against my nature to make assumptions as to this failure to communicate but providing the benefit of the doubt becomes more difficult as time passes, and polite excuses become less believable," McBroom said. 

Benson's office said Monday she's worked closely with the Legislature and appreciated its advancement of some election policies for which she had advocated. But her office criticized the committee for undermining faith in and "spreading misinformation" regarding the November election.

"Secretary Benson has repeatedly affirmed that she cannot in good conscience participate in such a charade, particularly after multiple members of the committee recently sponsored legislation to restrict the right to vote and, among other things, undermine Michigan voters’ state constitutional right to vote absentee," Benson spokesman Jake Rollow said. 

In a Monday letter to McBroom, Benson gave a general overview of the 250 election audits in the last several months that upheld the "integrity and accuracy" of the November election.

But she emphasized that post-election hearings spreading misinformation and the Senate's introduction of certain election bills would keep her from appearing before the committee. The bills Benson said she opposed included ones that would put additional restrictions on ballot drop boxes, ban clerks from paying for return postage on absentee ballot envelopes and keep current restrictions on the pre-processing of absentee ballots. 

"I have concerns that the hearing could further the lies about the election that continue to undermine Michigan voters’ faith in the outcome and are now the rationale to legislatively restrict their voting rights," Benson wrote. 

In his letter, McBroom noted that Benson's willingness to testify in front of Congress last week on election procedures was both "disappointing and perplexing."

On March 24, Benson urged a congressional panel to support the Democratic-backed "For the People" bill, one of the largest overhauls of U.S. election law in decades that would lift photo identification rules, tighten restrictions on campaign financing and restrict purges of state voter rolls. 

Last fall, Benson also declined to testify in front of the Michigan House Oversight Committee as it held hearings in the wake of unproven claims of fraud in the Nov. 3 election. 

She told then-Chairman Matt Hall, R-Marshall, that she could not "in good conscience" testify out of concern that the GOP-controlled panel was "amplifying already debunked conspiracy theories."

Benson's refusal came days after former President Donald Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, repeated unfounded claims of fraud in front of the House Oversight Committee. She cited Giuliani's appearance in her refusal letter to Hall, arguing that the former New York City mayor had spread "false and baseless accusations against Michigan public servants."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com