The Associated Press asked the five candidates running for Michigan secretary of state four questions on issues in the race. Their answers were limited to 100 words or less, and have been trimmed where necessary to meet the limit.
Candidates who provided responses were Democrat Jocelyn Benson, Republican Ruth Johnson, Green Party candidate John La Pietra and Libertarian Party candidate Scotty Boman. U.S. Taxpayer's Party candidate Robert Gale declined to submit answers to the questions.
Question: What, if anything, is broken in the secretary of state's operations and how would you fix it?
--Jocelyn Benson: I have ... specific priorities to address: work every day to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat; end fraud in the initiative process; protect voters from deception; (and take the) oath of nonpartisanship. I firmly believe that our secretary of state must operate the office in a nonpartisan manner. I believe ... (the voter identification) law must be enforced fully and uniformly across our state. (I also want to) improve access to branch office services through the creation of "one stop service centers" through partnerships with other state offices.
--John La Pietra: The idea of a field office is to provide necessary services to the public closer to the people. So criteria for having, keeping or adding offices must cover whether locations, facilities, staff and equipment are well allocated to do that effectively. And they must allow for the need to plan for new techniques and technology, and the even more advanced possibilities of the future, as well as recognizing the benefits of continuity -- not changing for change's sake.
--Scotty Boman: I would not only be neutral about the major parties, but would resign my links with the Libertarian Party. I would post all candidate and political party filings by the end of the business day, after the information was filed. I would also post all petition related filings as soon as they were approved by the board of canvassers. I believe customers could be better served if the secretary of state would simply certify private offices that would perform the duties of the government-run branch offices. The business would have to meet or exceed the same standards that exist for branch offices.
--Ruth Johnson: Creating jobs and building our economy is my top priority, and should be the top priority of every public official. Because of our broken economy, families are struggling. Additionally, the Department of State's budget is negatively impacted, which in turn puts pressure on operations. I have a plan to partner with local government and businesses to deliver lower-cost and more convenient services. We must reform the way we provide services to make Michigan a more attractive location to create jobs and live in.
Question: The need for campaign finance reform has been talked about during this election cycle. What is your stand on the issue and what role would you play as secretary of state?
--Benson: I oppose the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to spend unlimited funds on influencing political candidates. Secret groups that are not required to disclose their supporters spend millions of dollars on ads that will harm our system of fair elections. I will ensure increased transparency and disclosure of corporate influence, robocall reform, no foreign money influencing Michigan elections, eliminate potential for quid pro quo corruption (and enforce) consistent and nonpartisan enforcement of current campaign finance regulations.
--La Pietra: It seems plausible that the farther away we get from an election, the less urgency there is for immediate and detailed disclosure of campaign finances. But it's just as reasonable that we should be looking in both directions from election day. In fact, our campaign-finance reporting system does require some reporting right after the election as well as before it. We never get far enough away from an election that there is no need for openness, oversight and reporting. I would also like to get Michigan on the board with some kind of requirement for financial reporting by officeholders.
--Boman: Major party candidates get huge contributions from PACs (political action committees) just by being balloted. Many PACs donate "access money" to both major party candidates. Minor party candidates must then rely on individual contributions to fund their campaigns. For this reason, I support lifting individual contribution limits. I support an end to taxpayer-funded primaries. Political parties could nominate by conventions and caucuses. If they still preferred to select candidates by primary elections, participating political parties could choose to fund and administer the primaries themselves."
--Johnson: I have a record of fighting election fraud and increasing transparency of campaign financing. People have a right to know if out-of-state interests or a few wealthy individuals are providing major backing to a particular candidate or PAC. Additionally, issue ads -- or ads that don't clearly ask voters to support or oppose a specific candidate but are designed to impact the outcome of an election -- need funding transparency.
Question: Michigan is among a number of states with expanded driver's licenses that make it possible to travel to Canada and Mexico without a passport. Are there any ways to improve those licenses or the border crossing process? Because of the information contained in a chip in those licenses and concerns about who can access that information, what issues do you see regarding privacy?
--Benson: We need to ensure that these licenses are available to every citizen but also, importantly, citizens must be confident that their privacy is protected and secure. That's why, when I take office, I will immediately review the RFID chips in these licenses to make sure the current system does not put private information at risk. I will develop procedures to protect the privacy any information and ensure that it is encrypted.
--La Pietra: I am gravely concerned on several grounds about both Real ID and the radio-frequency identification chips proposed for enhanced driver's licenses. In fact, Greens have opposed the Real ID program since it was tucked away inside an otherwise uncontroversial 2005 spending bill and passed with little or no discussion. We see Real ID and RFID as offering no real security benefit and costing citizens a lot of time, trouble and tax money lost ... and that's before we even consider the loss of privacy and the increased risk of identity theft.
--Boman: Passports should be used for passports. Driver's licenses for driver's licenses. One of the greatest threats to our liberty and privacy is an attempt to use identification documentation to build an international database. This database could then be used to track every citizen's movements and purchases. Participation would be required to buy or sell. To stop this, I would reject the Real ID Act, Pass Act, or any other attempt to make state documents into de facto national ID cards. I would end the use of RFID chips in driver's licenses and state ID.
--Johnson: Enhanced driver's licenses are offered as an alternative to costly passports for purposes of re-entry into the U.S. One problem is that enhanced licenses -- just like passport cards -- are not valid for air travel. Regarding concerns about privacy related to the RFID chip in the enhanced license, I understand no personal information is imbedded in it, nor in the chips that are built into passports and cards. If people are concerned about exposing their enhanced license to scanning, the passport card can be an attractive option since it only needs to be removed from its protective sleeve when crossing the border.
Question: Some lawmakers are trying to scrap the 6-year-old driver responsibility fee. Is the fee a weight around the neck of state motorists, and should it be done away with or reworked?
--Benson: The driver responsibility fee is a discriminatory and oppressive fee that has harmed residents throughout our state. Since passage of the fee, the number of drivers with suspended licenses has increased more than 40 percent and a 26 percent increase in the number of people fleeing the scene of accidents. I will hold administrative hearings throughout the state to evaluate the impact of the fee. I will also collaborate with the state legislature and community leaders to create a solution that best works for everyone.
--La Pietra: I lean toward scrapping the state's system of "driver-responsibility fees." Better than such a one-size-fines-all approach would be giving judges discretion to use their experience and judgment to evaluate how responsible or irresponsible individual drivers have been. Then, too, such fixed fees hit harder those who can least afford either to pay them or to do without driving to work, which in turn makes them more likely to drive anyway, without license or insurance ... and that is irresponsible."
--Boman: Scrap the so-called "driver's responsibility" fee. People who fail to buy insurance probably do so because they lack sufficient funds. Placing this financial burden on the same people only makes it more likely that they will continue to drive without it. They should, however, be held accountable for all damages they cause. The driver responsibility fees are also imposed on people who are fully insured but accumulate a certain number of points. In some case, these points are accumulated while driving on "revenue roads" or being caught in traffic traps.
--Johnson: Driver responsibility fees for accumulation of a certain amount of "points" are nothing more than a hidden tax increase on our families. People can be assessed this tax for two violations in a three-year period. Our traffic safety system already has progressive accountability for repeat offenders, who have to pay higher insurance premiums and can lose their driving privileges. I support repealing the fees, which was a bad idea from the beginning. However, for people driving a car that is not insured, I support strong action to hold them accountable.