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Wait times at the Secretary of State: a problem or a political proxy war?

The Michigan Secretary of State went to an appointment-only model in March 2020
Posted at 5:46 PM, May 29, 2021

(WSYM) — Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was on the hot seat in Lansing this week, answering questions Thursday about the growing backlog at branches around the state.

In March of 2020, the department canceled all walk-in service appointments. Ever since then there have been a number of issues with people trying to get in and make appointments.

The 7 Investigators checked the appointment schedule for the East Grand Boulevard branch. We were told there’s nothing available until November.

This, according to Sec. Benson, is a byproduct of the pandemic, and things just beginning to open up again, and it's something that her office is working to fix.

"We release 15,000 appointments every day and about half of them are next-day appointments," said Sec. Benson's communication's director Tracy Wimmer. "While they do tend to fill up quickly customers can be confident that more next-day appointments will become available at the next designated release time. Sometimes it takes a few tries and others you can get one on the first attempt."

In an interview Sec. Benson was more direct: "We’re going to get through this backlog."

But Republican lawmakers see the current struggles to make an appointment as not just a momentary issue, but a forever problem.

"It’s not like we’re forbidding the appointments, the problem isn’t with the appointment system, it’s when the only avenue is by appointment," said Rep TC Clements, a member of the Michigan House of Representatives who serves the 56th district.

Before Thursday’s hearing, Rep. Clements put out a press release asking his constituents to fill out a form if they’ve had trouble booking an appointment.

"If you think about it, we’re required to have a license, we’re required to register our vehicle, we’re required to do all these things thru the secretary of state’s office, and now the secretary of state has decided to take a tact that isn’t truly the most customer service friendly," said Rep. Clements.

But Sec. Benson sees it differently and says many of those things, such as a license, registration, and plates — can be renewed online.

"That actually will free up more appointments for folks that need them," said Sec. Benson, who acknowledges there is a crush when trying to make appointments right now, but sees this as an after-affect of the pandemic and not a forever thing.

"We’re in a very divisive political moment where, as we get towards next year, we know everything is going to get politicized. That’s very much a part of this," said Benson.

Her office is currently trying to move even more functions online.

"That’s a legal change we need," she said referring to the goal of changing title transfers to an online option. "We’re working with lawmakers to put even more services online so that ultimately coming to a branch office at all will be a rare thing."

Starting July 1, individuals will only need a new photo for their ID every 12 years, which Sec. Benson hopes will decrease even more the amount of time people need to be spending in brick-and-mortar offices.