Benson: May election will balance democracy with safety

Elections

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said the May election will balance citizens’ right to vote with necessary precautions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We want everyone with an election on May 5, and there are about 50 or so communities, including many in the Grand Rapids area that have some, to know that they can vote without having to sacrifice their health and safety during this time,” Benson told News Thursday. 

Last month, Benson announced the spring election will rely on absentee ballots. People living in areas with ballot items should have received a notice from her office by now that allows them to request a ballot by mail. 

Some municipalities opted to bump local items to the August election in response to precincts being closed for May. 

Some school districts have pulled its bond proposals from the May election, including Delton Kellogg Schools and Cedar Springs Public Schools. 

“In light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our community, the Board determined that it was not the right time to ask our community to vote on such a significant issue. Their decision to postpone the election was out of respect to the current degree of health and financial uncertainty in our community. The District is taking steps to get the bond question added to the ballot for the primary election on August 4, 2020,” said Cedar Springs superintendent Scott Smith. 

Clerks offices in areas that proceed with the May election will still be open on Election Day, with precautions in place to minimize any potential spread or exposure to the virus. The state is looking for people to step up as election workers.

“I think now more than ever we have to demonstrate that democracy is healthy and that the ability of citizens to weigh in on crucial issues in their local community and, in some cases, hold their elected officials accountable needs to be protected and preserved,” Benson added. 

The secretary added her office recognizes the precedents that will be set next month, but the hope is polls will be back open later this year.

“The closure of precincts (for May), which the governor ordered through her order, I think it was a critical safety measure to take,” Benson said. “With that added foresight and planning we know and we’ve been able to essentially see if we have to take this statewide in August or November, you know, how to do so smoothly and effectively. All of us hope this pandemic is over by then, but we’re hoping for the best and preparing the worst, essentially.”

Benson also said she and the state are monitoring and discussing signature deadlines later this month for the August election. As of Thursday afternoon, no changes were solidified. West Michigan candidates have had to get creative with signature drives without going door-to-door.

“Like so many things now, it’s an evolving issue and it’s an issue that we’re continuing to talk with candidates across the state and the governor about,” Benson said.

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