Michigan Secretary of State adding 350,000 more appointments, greeters to some branches

Another 350,000 appointments are opening up at Michigan Secretary of State branch offices as Jocelyn Benson looks to shrink the pandemic-sized backlog of requests in the state.

That was one of a handful of department changes announced Tuesday that aims to increase efficiencies at branches around Michigan.

Benson also spent part of her press conference chastizing the Michigan legislature after a request to the oversight committee for $25 million to bolster staffing and increase appointments was declined.

"We're making improvements to the department without support from the legislature. These inefficiencies are a direct result of disinvestment in our department," she said. 

In addition to the new round of appointments, some of the state's busiest offices will now have a greeter that will meet people in line and help them get an appointment if one is available. If one isn't, they'll schedule a time for an individual when it becomes available. 

A third new policy will give priority to disabled people in need of a placard. While greeters will only be present at specific offices, counter staff will provide the same service between appointments at all other branches. 

Half of the newly available appointments are already online and open to be filled. The other half will be added incrementally as next-day appointments. Benson said they made a 25% increase in availability by shrinking 20-minute appointment slots down to 10 minutes. 

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While much of what is done through the Secretary of State can be conducted online, things like title transfers and taking a photo for a driver's license still need to be done in person. However, after the legislature placed a 13-month grace period that allowed people to use expired licenses, ID cards, and registrations, a massive backlog of appointments accrued.

This was exasperated by the migration of a new computer system and the closures of branches due to a COVID-19 exposure. 

Benson has kept the department's appointment-only system in place, despite the weeks or months it can take to secure an appointment. All next-day appointments are announced each morning at 8 a.m.

That has drawn the ire of Republicans, including the former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson who says the new system makes it difficult for some people to get an appointment. 

RELATED: Michigan Secretary of State requests $25M to reduce branch office backlog

Benson appeared before a committee to request additional funds that would hire more people and create more appointment times. Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township), who sits on the Oversight Committee introduced legislation that would send $25 million in federal Covid relief to the department.

But Rep. Steve Johnson, (R-Wayland), chair of the committee, threw cold water on that request when he said "I'm not interested in throwing more money at the Secretary of State."

Benson has cited previous budget cuts, including another request to cut $9 million more from the department as the reason for slow wait times at branches.