Levin Center and Wayne Law Host ABA Listening Tour in Michigan

Wayne State University Law School and the Carl Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy Hosted the American Bar Association’s Gathering of Leaders in Taking the Next Step: Ensuring Trusted Elections and Civics for Michiganders

Community leaders, scholars, educators, and public servants joined Wayne State Law School and its Carl Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy as they hosted the American Bar Association Task Force for American Democracy’s Taking the Next Step: Ensuring Trusted Elections and Civics for Michiganders, co-sponsored by Keep the Republic. The invitation-only event was held Friday, March 15, 2024, at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan.

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Levin Center Director, Jim Townsend, giving opening remarks.

Introductory remarks were delivered by American Bar Association President Mary Smith, Director of Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy Jim Townsend, past ABA president and Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, and State Bar of Michigan President Daniel D. Quick. Mayor Archer, former Supreme Court Justice Kurtis Wilder, and State Bar President Daniel Quick served as Co-Chairs of the gathering’s Host Committee.

“Safeguarding our elections and promoting civics education are crucial to strengthening democracy in our state and the nation. We are honored to host this vital day of discussion at Wayne Law,” said Richard Bierschbach, Dean and John W. Reed Professor of Law, Wayne State University Law School.

Former federal judge and co-chair of the ABA Task Force for American Democracy J. Michael Luttig spoke about the ever-present “Threat to Democracy” and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson spoke to attendees about “Making the Best System and Defending Against Attacks.”

Keynote Speaker, Judge Luttig.
Keynote Speaker, SoS Jocelyn Benson.

“Here in Michigan, we have undergone a great transformation over the last several years in our democracy. And the infrastructure of our elections has, in my view, never been stronger,” Secretary Benson said. “The next eight months are going to define the future of our country…and the actions we take in the next eight months will define not just the future of our country, but in my view, the strength of our democracy moving forward.”

Executive Director and Founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research David Becker hosted a panel with Michigan election experts to discuss the challenges the state faced during the administration of the 2020 presidential election and the strategies that have been implemented and strengthened to provide greater security and trust for the state’s future elections.

Panelist and Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck, who has served as Ottawa county clerk and register of deeds for the past nine years, said the reason he is still in his role is to build trust in the election system. “People trust information from sources that they trust. And I think my job is to be somebody people in my community trust,” Roebuck said. Echoing her colleague’s remarks, Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons encouraged voters to be responsible while engaging in the civic process where she emphasized the importance of maintaining accurate voter information and voter lists.

Lyons also spoke to how education, transparency and participation are key to establishing, bolstering and sustaining public trust. “I always tell people we have so many checks and balances built into our law. We have so many transparent opportunities for people to participate. And truly I say, ‘Don’t just take my word for it; see for yourself.”

Levin Center director Jim Townsend who moderated the session’s panel on civic education and civility, was encouraged to see the energy and participation from all panelists, speakers, and attendees that were in attendance. During the panel on civics education and civility Townsend said: “mandating the teaching of civics is not enough, we need to find more effective means of engaging students with how our democratic system works and what it means for their lives. That means investing in both in-class and afterschool programs and providing teachers with support and innovative lessons that bring civics to life.”

Attendees were also given the opportunity to engage in discussions and present their views on the safeguarding of our electoral process and strengthening of civics education and civil discourse in Michigan. In breakout room sessions, Attendees were able to speak amongst themselves on a variety of issues including the polarization of our democracy, the need for a more robust civics education for young people, and the importance of remaining open and civil with one another when seeking solutions to the present and emerging problems in America today.

Hon. Jeh Johnson giving closing remarks.
Hon. Jeh Johnson giving closing remarks.

Closing remarks were delivered by former Secretary of Homeland Security and co-chair of the ABA Task Force for American Democracy Jeh Charles Johnson. Secretary Johnson spoke at length about the challenges and the importance in the country’s fight for democracy. Drawing on his vast experiences and personal engagement as a civil servant, Secretary Johnson left attendees with the message to not be discouraged in the battles ahead to bolster our democratic processes and to remain hopeful in creating solutions that will ensure the next generation to be able to do the same.

Taking the Next Step is a speaker and discussion series that brings together a diverse and bipartisan group of community leaders and election officials in each of the seven states anticipated to be the main political battlegrounds in the 2024 presidential election. The series is designed to facilitate open discussions on the administration of elections throughout Michigan and the importance of civics education and civility to democracy. The Detroit meeting followed the first in the series which was held in February 2024, in Atlanta, GA. 

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