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Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is moving ahead with her promise to help Michigan election officials get ready for an influx of voting changes, following the passage of Proposal 3 in November.

That proposal, approved by voters, aims to make it easier for residents to cast ballots, from no-reason absentee voting to voter registration on Election Day.

Last week Benson formed the 25-member Election Modernization Advisory Committee to counsel her administration and the Department of State’s Bureau of Elections on the implementation of these reforms.

“The results of last November’s election are clear: Michigan voters want to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” Benson said in a statement on her advisory committee, which is  tasked with modernizing state elections, applying best practices and making Michigan a national model for "efficient and secure elections."

The committee is composed of clerks and other officials from around the state, as well as national elections experts.

One of the names seems out of place, however: Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey.

Winfrey made Detroit a national embarrassment after vote counting mishaps following the 2016 presidential election. Her incompetence was on full display then -- and in subsequent elections.

Winfrey narrowly beat her challenger for city clerk in 2017. Garlin Gilchrist -- now serving as lieutenant governor -- made the case that Winfrey’s handling of the 2016 election was a “complete catastrophe.”

Gilchrist came so close to unseating Winfrey that he demanded a recount, partly because of reports of “chaos and confusion” among Detroit absentee balloting. That recount ironically proved impossible to carry out fully because poll worker errors prevented about 20 percent of reviewed precincts from being tallied.

More: Our editorial: State must oversee Winfrey’s operation

That’s why it’s hard to understand what Benson hopes to glean from Winfrey -- unless she’s looking for a primer of what not to do.

Ahead of the November election, Benson called Detroit’s polling challenges “unacceptable.” And she said she’d work on standardizing poll worker training in Detroit and statewide to help prevent such blatant errors.

In the meantime, Benson has given Winfrey a statewide platform. Benson defends her choice, saying she wanted clerks “whose experience and challenges at the ground level are relevant and informative. That’s why it was particularly important to include a representative from the city of Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, who could provide input and experience on how these changes will play out at the local level.”

Yet Winfrey’s ineptitude places her in a special category.

As Sarah Anderson, chief of staff for the Michigan Republican Party, asks, “If this clerk has so thoroughly and routinely botched her basic job duties in Detroit, what damage will she be empowered to do to the rest of the state's elections?”

ijacques@detroitnews.com

 

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