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Karamo questions Benson's fitness for office after Michigan poll challenger lawsuit; Benson to appeal

Karamo
Sarah Cwiek
/
Michigan Radio
Republican Michigan Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo.

Republican Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo claimed victory Friday after a Michigan Court of Claims ruled against current Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson — though Karamo was not directly involved in the lawsuit.

Five people who worked as Republican poll challengers during this year’s primary election, plus Republican Party organizations, filed suit over guidance Benson’s office put out.

They said parts of that guidance — including restricting who poll challengers can communicate with, forbidding them from using electronic devices, and saying that certain challenges do not need to be recorded by poll inspectors — violated state election law.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Brock Swartzle agreed. He ordered Benson, a Democrat running for re-election, to either revise the guidance manual or issue a new one.

“He [Swartzle] ultimately said that, 'Ms. Benson, you have to follow the law. You can't just create new rules out of nowhere,'” said Ann Howard, an attorney for the five poll challenger plaintiffs.

Karamo said this raises questions about Benson’s fitness for office

“We cannot have someone operating our elections who behaves in a lawless manner. And the lawlessness that she allows to occur and the absolute suppression of poll challengers’ rights is unbelievable,” Karamo said.

Karamo also accused Benson of “consistently [sowing] seeds of dissension, seeds of division, and claiming that there will be violence and disruption on Election Day.” She said that poll challengers “are not seeking to be antagonistic. They are not adversarial figures. They are simply citizens, ensuring that the voting rights of Michiganders are protected.”

Benson and other Democratic officials have repeatedly raised issues about threats and intimidation against election workers and election officials, including amongst aggressive poll challengers. They've said that instead of serving as observers of a transparent process, some GOP poll challengers have come with an agenda of harassing workers and disrupting the election process.

Benson spokesman Jake Rollow gave the following statement after Swartzle’s ruling:

“We will appeal this ruling to provide certainty to all voters, clerks, election workers and election challengers on how to maintain the peace and order at all voting locations that state law requires and every voter expects and deserves. Michigan elections require tens of thousands of officials, employees and volunteers to all work in concert in service of the millions of citizens casting ballots and in its role overseeing this complex and decentralized system statewide, the Michigan Bureau of Elections has always provided clear and detailed instruction for interaction among all participants to ensure legal compliance, transparency, and equal treatment of all voters.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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