Jocelyn Benson

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Jocelyn Benson
Jocelyn Michelle Benson (cropped).jpg
43rd Secretary of State of Michigan
Assumed office
January 1, 2019
GovernorGretchen Whitmer
Preceded byRuth Johnson
Dean of the
Wayne State University Law School
In office
December 2012 – September 2016
Acting: 2012–2014
Preceded byRobert Ackerman
Succeeded byRichard Bierschbach
Personal details
Jocelyn Michelle Benson

(1977-10-22) October 22, 1977 (age 44)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationWellesley College (BA)
Magdalen College, Oxford (MA)
Harvard University (JD)
WebsiteGovernment website

Jocelyn Benson (born October 22, 1977) is an American Democratic Party politician serving as the 43rd Secretary of State of Michigan since 2019.

She is a former dean of Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan, a co-founder of the Military Spouses of Michigan and a board member of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality. She is also the author of State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process.

On November 6, 2018, Benson was elected as Michigan’s Secretary of State, becoming the first Democrat to hold the office since Richard H. Austin left office in 1995.

Education and 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.[1][2][3]

Benson received her JD from Harvard Law School, where she was a general editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.[4][5] 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,[5] 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.[6][7]

Wayne Law[edit]

Benson was appointed dean of Wayne State Law School in December 2012 at the age of 35, becoming the youngest woman to lead a top 100 law school in United States history.[8] As dean she significantly expanded the law school's opportunities for experiential learning and established two "marquee" programs: the Levin Center at Wayne Law,[9] chaired by former United States Senator Carl Levin, and the Program on Entrepreneurship and Business Law,[10] which helps aspiring business professionals in underserved communities participate in the economic revival of Detroit. The PEBL program offers early-stage legal assistance to participating local startups and creates forums for entrepreneurs to receive general legal guidance, access community resources and share their own business experience. Prior to being appointed Dean in 2012, Benson was the Associate Director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, where she started the Michigan Allies Project, an effort designed to track hate incidents throughout Michigan and provide legal support for victims.[11]

The Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality[edit]

From 2016–2018 Benson served as CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE),[12] where she led a coalition of all major sports leagues to empower athletes to advance equality. One of her major initiatives as CEO of RISE was to launch RISE to VOTE, a nonpartisan effort to register professional and college athletes to vote and encourage them to lead their fans in becoming informed and engaged citizens.

Military Spouses of Michigan[edit]

In 2012, Benson, a military spouse whose husband served in the U.S. Army as a sergeant with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, joined with three other military spouses and family members in Michigan to create Military Spouses of Michigan, a network dedicated to providing support and services to military family members and veterans in Michigan.[13] In January 2013, the group was selected to represent the state of Michigan in the Presidential Inaugural Parade; the only group of military spouses to receive that honor.[14]

Civics education and election law[edit]

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.[15] In addition to serving as an appointed member of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Election Law,[5] she 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 "Citizens' Redistricting Competition",[16] providing an opportunity for Michigan citizens to access software and draw their own redistricting maps for the state.[17]

Benson developed and supervised three statewide nonpartisan election protection efforts in Michigan in 2007, 2008 and 2012.[5] During the 2008 election, she was called to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee,[18] where she called on Secretary Terri Lynn Land to ban the use of foreclosure lists to challenge voters' eligibility on Election Day.[19] She is a frequent commentator on voting rights and election law on local news and radio broadcasts.[20][21][22]

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.[23]

Secretary of State[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 of state 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.[24] After working with secretaries of state from around the country while researching the book, Benson was inspired to run for the office in her resident state of Michigan.[25]

On October 27, 2017, Benson announced her candidacy for Michigan Secretary of State. She was elected on November 6, 2018, defeating Republican Mary Treder Lang, becoming the first Democrat to serve since Richard Austin left office in 1995.[26]

Family and personal life[edit]

Benson's husband is Ryan Friedrichs, they married in 2006.[27] A long-distance runner, Benson averages two full marathons per year. She has completed twenty-three full marathons since 2005,[28] including races in New York City, Honolulu, San Francisco, Washington DC, Florence, Venice, Chicago and Philadelphia. She completed her 18th marathon representing Team Red White and Blue in Rome, Italy. In 2016 she completed her second Boston Marathon and became one of a handful of women in history to complete the Boston Marathon while more than eight months pregnant.[29]


Crain's Detroit Business named her one of Michigan's "Most Influential Women" in 2016[30] and in October 2015 she became one of the youngest women in the state's history to be inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame, second only to Serena Williams.[31]

Electoral history[edit]

Michigan Secretary of State election, 2010[32]
Party Candidate Votes Percentage
Republican Ruth Johnson 1,608,270 50.68%
Democratic Jocelyn Benson 1,434,796 45.22%
Libertarian Scotty Boman 58,044 1.83%
U.S. Taxpayers Robert Gale 41,727 1.31%
Green John A. La Pietra 30,411 0.96%
Totals 3,173,248 100.0%
2018 Michigan Secretary of State election[33]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Jocelyn Benson 2,203,611 52.87% +9.93%
Republican Mary Treder Lang 1,833,609 44.00% -9.53%
Libertarian Gregory Stempfle 81,697 1.96% -0.02%
Taxpayers Robert Gale 48,724 1.17% +0.05%
Total votes 4,162,389 100.0% N/A
Democratic gain from Republican


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Archive". Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Archived from the original on August 6, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d "Wayne State University Law School Bio for Jocelyn F. Benson". Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Vassallo, Jim (June 13, 2014). "Wayne State Law School Names Jocelyn Benson Dean". JDJournal. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  9. ^ "Levin Center at Wayne Law". Levin Center. March 6, 2020. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  10. ^ "Wayne Law PEBL Program."[dead link]
  11. ^ "Contributor Biography". Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  12. ^ "Benson drew salary from RISE while seeking office". Crain's Detroit Business. March 17, 2019. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  13. ^ "Mold Removal and Remediation in Grand Rapids – All about Mold". Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  14. ^ "Military spouses march in today's inaugural parade"
  15. ^ "About". iCivics. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  16. ^ About the 2011 Michigan Citizen's Redistricting Competition at
  17. ^ Gregory Korte. Technology allows citizens to be part of redistricting process. USA Today. March 21, 2011
  18. ^ Wayne Law Professor Benson Invited to Testify Before U.S. Congress Wayne State University - News and Announcements Archive
  19. ^ Shawn Wright, Law professor announces bid for state office The South End, March 3, 2009
  20. ^ Pennsylvania Inside Out: Voting Rights WPSU TV, originally aired on March 16, 2008
  21. ^ Weekly Edition #3839 Archived June 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Off the Record, WKAR Public Broadcasting, originally aired March 27, 2009
  22. ^ Jocelyn F. Benson Never turn away a voter Detroit Free Press February 23, 2009
  23. ^ U.S. Department of Justice rules with NAACP to prevent closure of local Secretary of State office Michigan Chronicle Online, January 2, 2008
  24. ^ Benson, Ms Jocelyn F. (February 28, 2013). State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-1-4094-9699-1.
  25. ^
  26. ^ "2018 Michigan Official General Election Results - 11/06/2018". Retrieved February 24, 2019.
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Meet Jocelyn". Jocelyn Benson for Secretary of State. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  29. ^ "Wayne Law Dean Completes Boston Marathon While Pregnant". Detroit News. April 18, 2016. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  30. ^ "Most Influential Women 2016,"[dead link]
  31. ^ "Wayne Law Dean inducted into Michigan Women's Hall of Fame,"[dead link]
  32. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 29, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  33. ^ "2018 Michigan Official General Election Results - 11/06/2018".

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Secretary of State of Michigan