Michigan Secretary of State Says Online Services Dramatically Reduced Backlog at Branches


DETROIT, MI – All but one of the waiting room chairs were empty when Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson introduced herself to staff at a Detroit branch on Tuesday morning.

A constant stream of people looking to update their driver’s licenses or do other business entered inside and quickly settled into an open stall. Benson mingled with the staff behind the counter, then introduced herself to a man who signed up for a date online.

“I’m the secretary of state, so you can bring all your complaints to me,” Benson said.

Benson boasts of a dramatic improvement in service to the Michigan Secretary of State’s offices months after his office experienced massive service delays and slowdowns this summer. Benson said the turnaround is due to an expansion of online services and improvements in technology, an increase in hiring to fill vacant positions and extended evening hours with overtime pay for employees.

“There is no way to definitively say that the backlog itself is over, especially as the pandemic continues as we don’t know if residents are still planning on making transactions they have ignored. due to the pandemic, ”Benson said. “But we are confident that anyone who needs to access our branches can do so efficiently when it suits them. “

Benson said office visits lasted an average of only 20 minutes and the days of you having to get up early to make an appointment are over. But most people don’t interact with the Secretary of State in person at all. It is estimated that 60% of transactions are done online, more than double the rate of 28% in 2018.

The State Department estimates that 2,500 people prefer to visit walk-in branches every day. Eight in ten are able to complete their tasks on the spot, while the rest have an appointment to come back when the agency is less busy.

Self-service kiosks Installed in grocery and convenience stores also allow people to perform basic tasks like renewing a driver’s license or registering a vehicle while avoiding the queues at their local branch. Benson’s office has added 60 stations in the past three years, for a total of 153 statewide.

Benson said his office had made “huge strides” in improving itself, but acknowledged that many people were frustrated earlier this year. Branches of the Secretary of State ended walk-in service during the COVID-19 pandemic and switched to an appointment-only system.

Applications for renewal of driver’s licenses and other services were piling up and appointments were difficult to secure. Benson was called to testify before the House Oversight Committee in May to outline his plan to address the issue.

Benson said internal conversations with staff have produced three key solutions: upgrading technology upgrades, filling vacancies, and giving staff overtime. The ministry hired a new director of human resources and filled 50 of the 100 open positions.

“There is no way to definitively say that the backlog itself is over, especially as the pandemic continues as we don’t know if residents are still planning on making transactions they have ignored. due to the pandemic, ”Benson said. “But we are confident that anyone who needs to access our branches can do so efficiently when it is convenient for them. “

Benson, who has visited branches across Michigan in recent weeks, said she has also seen staff morale rise. It was while visiting branches in 2019 after taking office that Benson learned first-hand how some systems were broken.

“It has taken a long time for us to turn things around after decades of neglect and I am proud of the work we have done because I know it saves thousands of you time and stress every day,” said Benson said.

The Secretary of State, a Democrat, also highlighted disagreements with the Republican-majority legislature that has impacted the operations of the department. Benson says she has consistently requested more funding to pay staff and create six additional mobile offices to bring services directly to seniors, college campuses, rural areas and others with Internet limitations and of mobility.

Benson expressed hope that a request for $ 5 million will be met through an additional spending bill.

“When we asked for help it was not granted which only added to the difficulty, but my pride in this team and the work they have done and the success they have obtained far exceeds my disappointment that we had to do. by ourselves, ”Benson said.

Online services, a self-service station locator and more information are available at Michigan.gov/SOS. Office visits can be scheduled at the same site or by calling 888-SOS-MICH during business hours.

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Veronica J. Snell