Last week, a Michigan judge ruled that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) violated state law when she issued unilateral absentee balloting laws, validating a central point made by the Trump campaign in its legal challenges to the 2020 election.
During the 2020 election, Benson released several unilateral orders, including submitting absentee ballot applications to all registered voters. She also provided “guidance” on how to examine absentee ballots, which Michigan Court of Claims Chief Judge Christopher Murray ruled was unconstitutional under the state’s Administrative Procedures Act.
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According to Benson’s advice, “slight similarities” in absentee ballot signatures should lead a counter to rule “in favor of finding that the voter’s signature was legitimate.”
Murray considered Benson in breach of the law “since the Secretary of State’s guidance on signature matching requirements released on October 6, 2020, was issued in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).”
In a tweet, Michigan state Rep. Matt Hall (R) said, “I’m glad the court sees Secretary of State Benson’s attempts at lawmaking for what they are — simple abuses of her authority.”
“If she wishes to make reforms like this, she needs to consult with the Legislature or properly promulgate them through the laws we have on the books,” he added.
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Allegan County Clerk Bob Genetski had filed a lawsuit against Benson and state Director of Elections Jonathan Brater over Benson’s order, which Hall characterized as a “mandatory directive requiring local election officials to extend a presumption of validity to all signatures on absent voter ballots.”
Genetski claimed in the complaint that “the expectation found in defendant Benson’s guidelines would allow invalid votes to be counted,” but he did not allege that “this guidance forced him to accept a signature that he believed was invalid.”
The court’s decision stated:
…nowhere in the election law of this state does it say that signatures should be considered true, nor does it say that signatures should be accepted if the submission or return envelope has any redeeming quality in comparison to the signature on file. Policy determinations like the one at hand — which tips the scales in favor of a signature’s legitimacy — should be made in accordance with correctly promulgated APA or legislative laws.
In the face of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, Benson, like other progressive secretaries of state, put a strong focus on voting by absentee ballot.
According to WWMT News, more than 3.1 million Michigan voters cast absentee ballots out of a total population of 7.7 million.
According to Breitbart News, Benson used $4.5 million from the CARES Act — the initial coronavirus stimulus — in May 2020 to submit absentee ballot applications to all voters.
According to NBC 25, Benson said, “Through mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote.”
“Voting by mail is easy, convenient, clean, and reliable, and every Michigan voter has the right to do so,” she added.
“The Legislature is an equal branch of government tasked with enacting laws,” Hall said. This is not the Secretary of State’s work, and there is a protocol that must be followed.”
One of the concerns that the Trump campaign and Republicans believed was performed improperly in the 2020 election was the development of signature validation rules without the approval of a legislature.