By Steven Kovac
A Michigan Court of Claims judge has been asked to declare Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, in contempt for noncompliance with a court order.
The filing also requests the court enforce the injunction it issued on Oct. 20, 2022, ordering Benson to correct the guidance she provided to state and local election officials that the court found did not comply with Michigan law.
The court also found that the guidance she issued did not have the force and effect of law.
Benson’s guidance came largely in the form of an election operation manual written in May and revised in June 2022.
The emergency motion was filed on Nov. 2 with a requested deadline of 5 p.m. on Nov. 3.
Late in the day on Nov. 2, Court of Claims Judge Brock Swartzle issued an order granting immediate consideration of the plaintiffs’ motion.
Swartzle gave Benson until noon on Nov. 3 to respond to the plaintiffs’ emergency motion requesting enforcement of the injunction ordering her to make the corrections in her guidance and the requested contempt citation.
The five plaintiffs, known collectively as O’Halloran et al., are a group of citizens concerned about protecting the rights of challengers and poll watchers from infringement by Benson’s nonconforming or extra-legal guidelines.
The Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee have joined the suit as plaintiffs.
The Elias Law Group, founded by nationally known Democrat strategist Marc Elias, recently was added to the defense team representing Benson.
Plaintiffs contended that the rules imposed by Benson are barriers to effective ballot counting observation in the fast-approaching election.
The Oct. 20 Court of Claims order directed Benson to correct her guidance which the court found reduced the grounds for ballot challenges; created the requirement for an additional credential form for poll challengers; banned election challengers from being appointed on Election Day; restricted challengers to speaking only to certain election workers; and prohibited cell phones in absentee ballot counting areas.
With the Nov. 8 election just days away, the plaintiffs alleged in the emergency motion that Benson “made no effort whatsoever to correct” the manual.
They alleged that, as of Nov. 2, Benson’s noncompliant guidance was still posted on her office’s website and had the potential of “luring” local election officials and challengers into believing the guidance was appropriate.
Rather than immediately correcting the errors outlined in the court’s findings, on Oct. 21 Benson’s lawyers asked the Court of Appeals for an emergency stay of the injunction pending appeal.
On Oct. 28, Benson attempted to bypass the Court of Appeals by going directly to the state Supreme Court for an expedited ruling.
Neither of the higher courts have responded to Benson’s pleadings.
The election integrity watchdog group Michigan Grassroots Alliance alleged in a Nov. 2 statement that Benson is trying to delay issuing “lawful guidelines” until after the Nov. 8 election.
“Benson appears to be attempting to foment conflict at the polls and absentee vote counting boards. The only rational conclusion … is that she intends to violate the law during the election that features her as one of the candidates on the ballot,” the Alliance alleged.
The Michigan Secretary of State’s Office does not comment on ongoing litigation.
Benson has lost several recent court fights over election integrity issues.
She is currently battling a lawsuit by the Public Interest Legal Foundation to force her to remove the names of 25,000 of dead people from the state’s voter roll.
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