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Election Integrity News Blog


SOS Benson maneuvers to avoid court order

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

Drags heels on making judge-ordered changes to election training manuals

by Patrice Johnson

Frivolous. Riding out the clock. Obstruction—These words come to mind as a person reads the appeal filed Friday, Oct. 21, by Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Jonathan Brater, Bureau of Elections director. Michigan’s Executive Branch lost a case, a big one. Now Benson and Brater are claiming they should have been told sooner that they were breaking the law. They don’t have time to fix their misinformation, they say, and notify clerks in time for the November 8 election, more than two weeks away.

The protests stretch the bounds of credulity, considering that the SOS/BOE’s defective elections manual supplanted an accurate one, published by the secretary's predecessor. Even if ignorance of the law were an excuse, which it is not, that argument won’t wash either Benson holds a law degree and has taught law, plus her office employs hundreds of lawyers. They-should-have-told-us-sooner borders on ludicrous, coming from a Soros-backed secretary who issued rapid-fire, 50-page instructional changes to elections clerks into the final days leading up to the 2020 election.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Brock Swartzle ordered Benson to either “(1) rescind the May 2022 [Election] Manual in its entirety; (2) revise the May 2022 Manual to comply with this Opinion and Order or (3) revise an earlier iteration of the manual to comply with this opinion and order.” The ruling came after the judge combined two near-simultaneous court filings, one from the Republican Party and another from citizens Phil O’Halloran, M.D., Bob Cushman, Braden Giacobazzi, Penny Crider, and Ken Crider. Both suits claimed the secretary’s May 2022 elections manual violated the rights of poll challengers and infringed on their ability to ensure the integrity of elections.

Key provisions of the court ruling include the removal of restrictions upon poll challenger assignments, with whom poll challengers can communicate, the use of electronic devices by poll challengers, and reasserted the need for poll inspectors to record all challenges made by poll challengers.

“This is by no means a heavy administrative burden for an agency with the resources possessed by the office of SOS,” said O'Halloran, a practicing medical doctor and one of the plaintiffs.

Point of perspective: The Michigan Attorney General’s office employs 250 Assistant Attorneys Generals, and the legislature and governor recently approved a blockbuster $76 billion FY23 budget.

“Based upon the judge’s ruling, aren’t there problems with the 2020 written guidance as well?” O'Halloran asked. “Should that be specifically mentioned since [Benson] cannot simply revert back to that previous illegal guidance?”

Pattern of lawbreaking

In light of three previous court rulings against Benson and others settled before going to court, one could argue a disturbing pattern of lawbreaking has emerged.

The Genetski ruling in March 2021 determined that Benson had arbitrarily—translated, illegally—neutered signature matching laws when she told clerks to assume all signatures were valid. Benson’s misinformation violated the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act, the court found.

Then, the Davis Ruling smacked the secretary down for unlawfully restricting the right to open carry of firearms at all polling places.

Third, Michigan House Representative Steve Carra won a settlement from Benson after a court found she broke the law when she mandated poll challengers to stand six feet away from the election inspectors. She had no legal authority to prevent the challengers from performing their jobs, the judge declared.

The Johnson settlement stopped Benson from allowing the acceptance of absentee ballots after 8 p.m. on Election Day.

“It is a sad pattern of behavior rather than an isolated occurrence,” Patrick Colbeck, president of MIGrassroots Alliance, said.

No end in sight

Six days ago, Pure Integrity Michigan Elections lobbed a seven-day warning over SOS Benson’s bow. Her office is currently providing legally unauthorized ‘misinformation’ to election inspectors (paid workers) on 11 distinct issues, PIME claims.

On Oct. 14, a member of the PIME alerted the East Lansing City clerk that she, Benson, the since-resigned MSU president, and Ingham County Clerk Byrum were violating at least three state laws in their opening of satellite, one-stop voting locations on MSU campus.

Ongoing concerns.

“I am worried she will release new guidance that still breaks the law in fun new ways, and we won't be able to challenge it before November 8 since the judge ruled only on the specific ways she broke the law in the primary,” O’Halloran said.

Braden Giacobazzi, on the leadership team of the Election Integrity Force, expressed similar concern. “There is no excuse for not having guidance after four years in office, especially since she could technically just copy and paste the existing law and be basically done with the guidance if she wanted to.”

In regard to the secretary’s expression of lack of time, Giacobazzi said, “She could simply use the law as guidance rather than write another corrupted manual herself, which she is prone to do. There is no excuse for not having legally faithful guidance four years into office. Just cite Michigan law and be done with it.” EIF and Michigan Citizens for Election Integrity (MC4EI) offer poll challenger training.

Plaintiff Penny Crider is turning her focus to alert law enforcement to the judge’s changes. “It would be wise to put something together for the supervisors that are on the floor at TCF and the other locations.” The TCF Center in Detroit recently changed its name to Huntington Place.

Crider indicated that plans are underway to set up a website, so people can readily find the court orders and to notify the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association and the Police Officers Association of Michigan.

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