Jocelyn Benson

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Jocelyn Benson
Jocelyn Michelle Benson.jpg
Personal details
Born (1977-10-22) October 22, 1977 (age 37)
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Wellesley College
Magdalen College, Oxford
Harvard University
Religion Christianity
Website Personal website

Jocelyn Benson is the Dean of Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan. She was the Democratic Party's nominee for Michigan Secretary of State in the November 2, 2010, election. She is a co-founder of the Military Spouses of Michigan, and is the author of the 2010 book entitled "State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process."

Education and early career[edit]

Benson graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College, where she founded the now-annual Women in American Political Activism conference and was the first student to be elected to serve in the governing body for the town of Wellesley, Massachusetts. She subsequently earned her Master's in Sociology as a Marshall Scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford, in the United Kingdom, conducting research into the sociological implications of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. Prior to attending law school, Benson also lived in Montgomery, Alabama, where she worked for the Southern Poverty Law Center as an investigative journalist, researching white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations. Benson has also worked as a summer associate for voting rights and election law for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and as a legal assistant to Nina Totenberg at National Public Radio.

Benson received her J.D. from Harvard University Law School, where she was a general editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.[1] From 2002-2004, she served as the Voting Rights Policy Coordinator of the Harvard Civil Rights Project, a non-profit organization that sought to link academic research to civil rights advocacy efforts,[1] where she worked on the passage of the federal Help America Vote Act.

Upon graduation from Harvard Law, Benson moved to Detroit to serve as a law clerk to the Honorable Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Voter Protection, Civics Education, and Election Law[edit]

Benson developed and supervised three statewide nonpartisan election protection efforts in Michigan in 2007, 2008 and 2012.[1] During the 2008 election, she was called to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee,[2] where she called on Secretary Terri Lynn Land to ban the use of foreclosure lists to challenge voters' eligibility on Election Day.[3] She is a frequent commentator on voting rights and election law on local news and radio broadcasts.[4][5][6]

In 2007, Benson worked with several groups to successfully keep a Secretary of State branch office open in Buena Vista Township, Michigan. The U.S. Department of Justice, under then-President George W. Bush, concluded that the closure of the office would violate the Voting Rights Act.[7]

2010 Secretary of State candidacy[edit]

In March 2010, Benson published her first book, State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process. The book highlights best practices of Secretaries from throughout the country and seeks to inform voters about how Secretaries of State from either side of the political spectrum can work to advance democracy and election reform.[8] After working with Secretaries of State from around the country while researching the book, Benson was inspired to run for the office in her home state of Michigan.

After receiving support for her proposals for early voting and no-reason absentee voting at the 2009 Michigan Democratic Party Convention [9] on February 21, 2009, Benson filed paperwork to create an exploratory committee for a campaign for Michigan Secretary of State in 2010.[3]

With the formation of the committee, Benson began a listening tour throughout the state to discuss what can be done to improve elections and the other functions of the Secretary of State’s office.[10] After spending several months gaining support in counties throughout the state, she made her official announcement to run for the Democratic nomination on October 6, 2009.[11]

On April 17, 2010, the Michigan Democratic Party membership endorsed Benson to be the Democratic nominee in the November election. The Michigan Democratic Party officially nominated Benson for Secretary of State on August 29, 2010. Benson was defeated by Ruth Johnson, but earned more votes than any other Democrat on the ballot in Michigan in 2010.[12]

Michigan Center for Election Law[edit]

Benson is currently the Dean of Wayne State University Law School, where she teaches Election Law and Education Law.[13] She previously served as the Associate Director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights.[14] and was also an appointed member of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Election Law.[1]

Benson is also the founder and current director of the Michigan Center for Election Law, which hosts projects that support transparency and integrity in elections. In 2011 the Center hosted Michigan's first ever "Citizens' Redistricting Competition," providing an opportunity for Michigan citizens to access software and draw their own redistricting maps for the state.[15]

In 2011, Benson was selected to serve with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the national board of directors of iCivics, Inc., a nonprofit created by Justice O'Connor to improve civics education throughout the country.[16]

Family and Personal Life[edit]

A long-distance runner, Benson averages two full marathons per year. She has completed sixteen full marathons since 2005, including races in New York City, Detroit, Honolulu, San Francisco, Washington DC, Florence, Venice, and Philadelphia.[17] Most recently she completed her 17th Marathon representing Team Red White and Blue in Rome, Italy. In May 2009, she ran the Boston Marathon. Benson is also an avid fan of the Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Portland Timbers Major League Soccer team.


  1. ^ a b c d Wayne State University Law School Bio for Jocelyn F. Benson
  2. ^ Wayne Law Professor Benson Invited to Testify Before U.S. Congress Wayne State University - News and Announcements Archive
  3. ^ a b Shawn Wright, Law professor announces bid for state office The South End, March 3, 2009
  4. ^ Pennsylvania Inside Out: Voting Rights WPSU TV, originally aired on March 16, 2008
  5. ^ Weekly Edition #3839 Off the Record, WKAR Public Broadcasting, originally aired March 27, 2009
  6. ^ Jocelyn F. Benson Never turn away a voter Detroit Free Press February 23, 2009
  7. ^ U.S. Department of Justice rules with NAACP to prevent closure of local Secretary of State office Michigan Chronicle Online, January 2, 2008
  8. ^ secretaries of state benson&f=false
  9. ^ Mark Hornbeck, Detroiter to run for Secretary of State Detroit News, February 23, 2009
  10. ^ philgoblue Jocelyn Benson Creates Committee to Explore a Run for Michigan Secretary of State West Michigan Rising, posted Thu March 05, 2009
  11. ^ Detroit News staff reports WSU professor to run for Secretary of State Detroit News October 5, 2009
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