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Michigan Secretary Of State On Challenges Certifying Election Results In Her State

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A little-known board of county officials in Michigan made bigger headlines than Congress this week. And that's because for a moment, the two Republicans on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers seemed to hold the fate of Michigan's presidential election results in their hands.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And now, as Republican lawmakers from Michigan visit the White House and President Trump's attempts to overthrow the legitimate results of the election drag on, the Trump campaign's focus appears trained on Michigan, which is why we wanted to invite Michigan's Democratic secretary of state onto the program. Jocelyn Benson is in charge of the election in Michigan. Welcome.

JOCELYN BENSON: Good evening. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: You have had quite a week.

BENSON: (Laughter).

KELLY: Let's start with this business in Wayne County, which is home to Detroit, of course - two officials saying they would not certify. Then they said they would. Now they want to take it back. Where does this stand?

BENSON: Well, first, it's clear that the voters of Wayne County in Michigan have spoken. They've made a choice. There's no legal or factual basis to question that choice. And the Wayne County Board of Canvassers did, in an open meeting, as an official process, make an official vote to approve and certify the results of the election in Wayne County, just as every county in the state has done. And canvassers are required by law to certify results. That's what they've done. And now we expect the Board of State Canvassers to do the same.

KELLY: OK. So that vote - that stands.

BENSON: Yes. Votes - when you're an official state board...

KELLY: Yeah.

BENSON: ...Votes have to be taken in - you know, in a meeting that complies with the Open Meetings Act, and that's what occurred here.

KELLY: Well, let me move you to today and this meeting at the White House. The White House is characterizing these visiting Michigan lawmakers - that this is a routine meeting. That's what White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany is saying. Is it routine for the president of the United States to call Michigan state officials and invite them to a private meeting at the White House?

BENSON: You know, I don't know if it's ever happened before, certainly not in a time like this, where there's so much focus on Michigan, as you mentioned. But it's important to note that both the speaker and the Senate majority leader have stated they would not obstruct the will of the voters, which they've confirmed has been quite clear. And we have no reason to doubt that yet. And I'm going to continue to expect they'll follow the law as it's, you know, very clearly laid out in our state constitution and state statutes what should occur at this point.

KELLY: And do you have any intel on the agenda for the meeting, how it's going?

BENSON: Not at all. No.

KELLY: OK.

BENSON: I really stay out of that process. I'm the state's chief election officer. My job is to just make sure that the will of the voters is what rules the day.

KELLY: Well, let me ask - the broad path that President Trump and his lawyers appear to be charting involves convincing Michigan's State Board of Canvassers not to certify the Biden victory in Michigan and then convincing state lawmakers to appoint electors who would overturn the will of Michigan voters. Is that a correct summary? And if so, would that be legal?

BENSON: Well, no. It is potentially a path that I imagine people may imagine in their heads, but there's not something - there's nothing in the law that - or nothing, actually, that's occurred yet that would indicate that anyone is going down that path. And that's what I think it's important to focus on.

KELLY: OK.

BENSON: Indeed, every one of Michigan's 83 counties have certified the elections. Republican and Democratic clerks have confirmed that there's no evidence of widespread irregularities. And the board has previously certified elections when there were more clerical mistakes and narrower margins of victory than there is this time around. And so it would really be an egregious departure from their legal responsibility and requirements for them to do anything other than certify the election on Monday.

KELLY: And may I ask, have you personally seen any evidence - as the person in charge of the election in Michigan, have you seen any evidence of widespread fraud, of wrongdoing, of rigging the vote?

BENSON: No, not at all. And not only that; this has been one of the more scrutinized elections in modern history for our state. So if there was anything to discover or find, we certainly would have found it at this point.

KELLY: So there is no reason that you can point to that Biden winning Michigan by more than 150,000 votes - that that would not stand?

BENSON: No, none at all. And, again, as I started out by saying, it's actually - it's very clear that the voters have spoken. It's very clear that there's no legal or factual basis to question that choice.

KELLY: So what do the next few days look like? The Michigan - the state board - the Board of State Canvassers are set to meet on Monday, and it will at that point consider certifying the state election results?

BENSON: Correct. And, you know, I've been calling on and expect the Board of State Canvassers to essentially carry out what their - is their very clearly defined legal duty to certify this election as the 83 counties have already done.

KELLY: Big picture, if the Trump campaign's strategy fails to overturn the election results in Michigan - and it does appear that it will fail - do you worry about the long-term implications of these tactics, you know, the consequences of such attempts to sow doubts about election integrity going forward?

BENSON: Very much so. And indeed, when we think about the most negative impact and implications of this moment, it's exactly that. We're going to get through this moment. The will of the people in Michigan and throughout the country have been heard, and it will prevail. But we will need to move forward doing work together as a country to rebuild the faith that everyone rightly should have in our secure and accurate elections. And that's really the path forward. And that's got to be the focus of anyone who wants to be a part of, you know, healing the great divide that's been created through a lot of these post-election shenanigans.

KELLY: And I wonder, in the minute we have left, if you would just stay on that - the healing the great divide. What do your conversations sound like at the moment with Republican officials in Michigan?

BENSON: It's this combination of where we are right now - what's the right thing to do; what do we do as American people - and recognizing that our role as Americans and as leaders in Michigan is to comply with the law and to also ensure that the will of the people was heard and then that we can move forward, solving the very significant problems that lay ahead not just in ensuring we restore faith in our democracy but that we protect the health and safety of all of our citizens in the midst of this global pandemic we find ourselves.

KELLY: That is Michigan's secretary of state, Democrat Jocelyn Benson. Thank you.

BENSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.