The race for secretary of state became a referendum on the 2020 presidential election, which the incumbent Democrat Benson oversaw.

Incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson declared victory over Republican opponent Kristina Karamo late Tuesday.

Benson, a Detroit Democrat and former dean of Wayne State University Law School, had won 55.4 percent of the vote with 87 percent of state ballots counted late Wednesday morning.

Karamo, who rose to prominence after raising unsubstantiated doubts about the Michigan presidential election in 2020, had captured 43.2 percent, according to unofficial results.

“In this election, democracy was on the ballot,” Benson said in a statement. “Our right to vote was on the ballot. And tonight, democracy won here in Michigan.”

The secretary of state has many duties, including running Michigan Secretary of State branch offices and overseeing routine transactions like driver  license renewals. 

But it was the 2020 presidential election that has defined the race between Benson, who oversaw the proceedings and defended the results, and Karamo, whose path to the nomination began when she claimed she witnessed fraud as a poll challenger that year in Detroit.

Karamo spent the bulk of her campaign working to convince voters the voting process was flawed, frequently claiming without evidence that Benson had committed crimes and unsuccessfully suing to block Detroit voters from casting absentee ballots.

Numerous audits and investigations have found the elections secure. Benson described Karamo and GOP attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno as “threats to democracy.” 

On Election Day Tuesday, Karamo continued that line of attack, sending out a series of tweets throughout the day alleging illegal activity she said was occurring in DetroitNovi and “Reford,” presumably referring to Redford Township. 

She claimed Novi and Redford did not make public how many absentee ballots were sent out, received back and delivered for processing by 8 a.m. as required by law. 

Novi officials responded to the claim with a photo of the public notice containing the information that was posted in the city’s civic center. 

In Detroit, some precincts experienced issues with the ePollbook — an electronic version of the qualified voters file that was downloaded onto a laptop to process voting records. Due to a data error, the ePollbook was flagging some in-person ballots as having the same number as absentee ballots that were already issued, local officials have said.

The issue was addressed “quickly” and all eligible voters were still able to vote at the precincts, Benson spokesperson Jake Rollow told reporters Tuesday night. 

Voters were allowed to vote provisionally or by regular ballot and all will be counted, Rollow said.

Karamo claimed the incident amounted to fraud: “This is a CRIME, not an oversight,” she tweeted.

During the media call, Rollow said he hadn’t seen her specific claims, but noted that Karamo and others have been making false claims about the election for years “and none of them have proved to have any merit.” 

“We don’t expect it to stop in the immediate future, but we do advise voters to be wary of it, to turn to official trusted sources like their local clerk’s office to find accurate information about how elections are carried out,” he said. 

Benson first ran for secretary of state in 2010, losing to eventual two-term winner Ruth Johnson, a Holly Republican. Benson won in 2018 on promises to shorten wait times at secretary of state branch offices across the state and expand access to voting and improve transparency. 

During her tenure, she switched the state’s 131 branches to an appointment-based system and oversaw the first statewide election with no-reason absentee balloting.

Benson has said that her second-term goals is to further increase the amount of transactions Michigan residents can complete without having to visit a branch office from 60 percent to 75 percent.

One service she’d like to see made available online is title transfers, as other states including Illinois have done. Benson said 70 percent of  transactions currently happening in branches are title transfers. 

Another priority is increasing the number of mobile secretary of state offices from three to seven.  She also wants to work on relationships within what was up until Tuesday a Republican-dominated Michigan Legislature, which has often been tense over the course of her first term. Democrats are now poised to control both chambers as well as the governor’s office after Tuesday.  

Karamo was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and counted herself as one of a handful of “America First” candidates for secretary of state nationwide. 

Voting advocates have said they feared these Trump-backed candidates would make it harder to vote, delay certification of results by conducting numerous audits or even refuse to certify results — especially if Trump runs once more for president and loses.

Karamo ran on improving election security and said that she too would support allowing more transactions to take place outside branch offices and advocate for lowering fees, noting that as a single mom, she understood what it was like to choose between renewing a vehicle registration and feeding her family.

Despite her beliefs that fraud permeated the 2020 election, Karamo has told Bridge she wasn’t headed into the 2022 race looking to challenge the results, but she didn’t rule out doing so, noting she was “walking into it with my eyes wide open.”

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