Benson launches SOS run with 30-minute guarantee

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – Former Wayne State University Law School Dean Jocelyn Benson jumped into the 2018 Democratic nomination race for Michigan secretary of state on Tuesday with calls for a 30-minute customer service guarantee.

No one in Michigan should wait more than 30 minutes to renew their driver license, register their vehicle or cast a ballot, Benson told reporters at a campaign kick-off event in Lansing. She also vowed to guard against any “internal and external” threat to election security.

“I’ll be working every day to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” Benson said.

The 39-year-old Detroit resident is seeking the Democratic nomination for the second time. She was the party’s 2010 nominee before losing in the general election to term-limited Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican.

Benson is a Harvard Law School graduate, CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality and founding member of the Military Spouses of Michigan. She served as Wayne State law school dean from 2012 through September 2016.

Johnson has expanded online offerings, increased self-service stations and implemented a virtual line system to reduce branch wait times during her seven-year tenure as secretary of state, a spokesman noted Thursday.

But Benson said there is room for improvement, explaining she wants to use technology to continue progress at branch locations across the state. On the election front, she said voters should have more early voting and no-reason absentee options to reduce lines at polling places.

“In the 2016 primary election in August, I had to wait in line two hours with a little two-and-a-half-month-old baby,” Benson said, referencing her son. “So I experienced first-hand how challenging that can be.”

Benson kicked off her campaign with a morning stop at the Secretary of State Super Center on Grand Boulevard in Detroit before making stops in Grand Rapids and Lansing.

She is the first Democrat to declare a campaign for the secretary of state nomination, which party delegates will decide next year.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said Tuesday she is “still interested” in a potential run but is currently focused on overseeing local elections set for next month.

On the Republican side, Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot, Eastern Michigan University Regent Mary Treder Lang and Michigan State University Professor Joseph Guzman are competing for the party’s nomination.

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.

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