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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Opinion | Michigan Secretary of State changes make service more convenient

After decades of neglect, the Michigan Department of State is entering a new era in which services are more accessible and convenient than ever before.

In fact, visiting our office at all is quickly becoming a thing of the past. That’s because you can now do the majority of your Secretary of State business from home or at your local grocery store.

Jocelyn Benson
Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, is Michigan’s 43rd Secretary of State.

You can renew your vehicle registrations, driver licenses and state identification cards from home – online or by mail. Or you can do so while grabbing groceries at one of the dozens of new self-service stations we installed at Kroger and Meijer stores across the state.

In just two years, we’ve doubled the rate of work getting done without an office visit. This year, already 60 percent of Michiganders doing business with us did so online, by mail or at a self-service station. When I took office, only 30 percent of transactions were done this way.

This means that in the limited times you do need to come to a branch office, your visit will be smooth and efficient. You can decide to visit just a day in advance, make an appointment, and be in and out of the office in an average of 20 minutes.

Our upgraded appointment model is designed to give you next-day, in-person service and allow for easy, efficient access to any branch office.  Every day at 8 a.m. and again at noon, thousands of appointments become available for booking on our website for the following day.

 

As COVID restrictions lift, we will continue to increase capacity of those “next-day appointments” as we work to ensure the number of slots available are in sync with residents’ needs.

Meanwhile, anyone who is able to plan ahead has the additional option of making an advance appointment, as about half of our appointments are made available for reservations up to six months in advance.

There are currently two options for making an appointment. You can do so online, or by calling 888-SOS-MICH and dialing option 2 to reach staff dedicated to booking them for anyone with internet limitations.

We continue to explore new ways to modernize the way we deliver service to our residents, listening and responding to concerns and ensuring our office staff have the support they need to effectively serve our state.

We will continue down this path because the data shows our service-driven approach is working.

Michiganders’ satisfaction rates, which were on a steady decline since 2014, have now have doubled since we began upgrading and modernizing our services. What was once a 2-star average resident rating is now at 4 out of 5 stars, higher than ever before.

Importantly, our work to modernize the Department of State is an effort to continually modernize and innovate how we can best serve every Michigan resident.

We are working within the confines of outdated laws and limited funding to get this done, and have given leaders in the state legislature, who we need to join us in this work, a road map on how to modernize and better fund our department.

In reality, decades of budget cuts and other rollbacks forced the department to eliminate staff and close nearly half of all branch offices. And that, combined with an antiquated, outdated “walk in and take a number” service model, led to wait times that had been steadily increasing for years and, without changes, were on track to continue increasing for years to come when I took office in 2019.

Yet despite our plan for lawmakers to update our laws and fully invest in our department so that we can continue to innovate and modernize our services, they have chosen politics and partisanship over data, proposing additional budget cuts and a mandate to return to practices that would lead to hours-long waits for basic services.

But we’re looking forward, not backwards. Michiganders across the state clearly have embraced the ability to make an appointment from home the day before a branch visit, and prefer it to just showing up and waiting for hours for service.

Ultimately the goal of our service-driven model is to make visits to branch offices infrequent if needed at all. We continue to move in that direction, and we’ve asked lawmakers to adjust state laws to allow drivers to test for a license online, and submit license photos online or by mail instead of mandating an office visit to update their photo.

We would implement these changes with authorized partners and security standards, and the result would be a win for all Michiganders. Our goal is to continue to decrease the times residents need to visit an office in person, and thereby ensure there are ample staff and appointments available for all.

But we need the Legislature to work with us, not against, to continue moving forward.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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