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Michigan Secretary Of State On How An Armed Group Protested In Front Of Her House

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It has been two weeks since officials in Michigan certified the 2020 presidential election, but some voters just are not ready to let go, and they're going to extreme lengths to make their displeasure known. A few dozen demonstrators, some reportedly armed, showed up at the private home of Michigan's top election official Saturday night.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was at home with her family in Detroit when she heard people chanting and shouting obscenities, accusing her of, quote, "stealing the vote." Much of the focus of that slogan has been aimed at Wayne County, home to the largest concentration of Black voters in the state. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson of Michigan joins us now. Welcome.

JOCELYN BENSON: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So what exactly happened on Saturday night?

BENSON: Well, it was late in the evening, and so my 4-year-old son and I were getting ready for bed. I mean, you know, it's bedtime for him. And we were - we had just finished up decorating the house for Christmas. And we were about to sit down and watch "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" as he got ready for bed, and then we began to hear noise outside the home. And we had been, you know, always on guard and always prepared for things like this in this moment that we're in, unfortunately. But as a mother, nothing really prepares you for, you know, that moment where you just focus on protecting your kid.

CHANG: How bad did it get outside?

BENSON: You could certainly hear - and there's video footage reflecting the demands being made outside of my home, the threats, the - yeah. You know, and knowing, again, that we have security footage - we have security cameras on our property, so I had confidence that as - once law enforcement was on the scene, we'd protected and then would be able to, you know, follow up with anything that needed to be followed up with in partnership with our attorney general.

You know, while you're in this great uncertainty where - and focused on protecting your family, I realize that the threats really weren't aimed at me. They were aimed at our voters. And then the requests were to overturn an election, where the voters clearly spoke. And my job as the state's chief election officer is to protect and defend our voters, every single one of them, regardless of how they vote. And so my mind focused on that, and then my heart focused on my kid.

CHANG: I mean, talk about that because you did release a statement afterwards, and you said that these messages - which, you know, one could interpret were directed at you personally - you interpreted as being directed at the voters. Tell me why you say that.

BENSON: My job really is to protect the will of the people. My job is to manage an election. And, indeed, we did have a very secure and successful election here in which our results were known even sooner than we'd anticipated through the hard work of our clerks. And, you know, no amount of threats or violence or intimidation or bullying or people outside my home is going to change my determination or alter my determination to protect the will and voices of every voter in the state no matter who they voted for. The bottom line is the - their goal is to overturn and upend the results of an election that are clear and unequivocal.

CHANG: Results that you have absolute certainty in.

BENSON: Correct - and 5.5 million citizens participated in. And there's no evidence, despite several press releases and legislative hearings and legal claims or affidavits - there's nothing that has alleged any clear or cogent evidence of any wrongdoing.

CHANG: You have been the target of vitriol from fringe conspiracy theorists for a few weeks now. How did Saturday night feel different to you, though? I mean, did it?

BENSON: Well, you know, I began my career investigating white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations across the country and was inspired to be involved in this work by the sacrifice of another Detroiter, Viola Liuzzo, whose photo and the license plate - replica license plate of her car is in my office, the car that she was driving when she was murdered for protecting voters in Selma, Ala., in 1965. So my - I'm acutely aware in my heart of the risks that are born through those seeking to protect our democratic process.

And that also is where my mind and my heart went during this moment because, you know, the job I have is simple - to protect and defend every Michigan voter and their choice and their votes and our democracy. And I'm proud to do that. No amount of attacks or threats in my - to my email, to my voicemail, to social media or outside my house is going to alter that commitment to defending and protecting the right to vote of every eligible citizen. And so all that occurs when those - that vitriol increases is a deepening of my determination to ensure that our democracy prevails.

CHANG: Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, thank you very much, and stay safe out there.

BENSON: Thank you. Thank you very much. You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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