LANSING, Mich. — For the first time in Michigan, you can only get into a Secretary of State office with an appointment.
There's been such a demand for office appointments this year that advance appointments at some locations are booked two or three months out.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is calling the long waits a temporary situation caused by the pandemic. But the state's Secretary of State offices, she said, are moving into a "new era."
"I think number one thing is, for the vast majority of citizens, we want your visits to the branch offices themselves to be rare, if at all," Benson said. "We want you to be able to do your business with the state, renew your license, get a new ID even, without having to leave your home or while you're going about your business in some other place, like your grocery store."
Making traditional Secretary of State offices appointment only in Benson's first move.
In order to make those appointments easier to come by, Benson is now working to implement two more strategies.
The first: creating more self-service kiosks in grocery stores.
"They're in 150 locations all across the state of Michigan, I want to double those over the next year," Benson said. "Places like Kroger and Meijer where people already are, and you can renew your plates, renew your license right here. All this without having to go to an office. You can also look up your driver's record and a number of other transactions."
The second strategy: Benson wants to create "pop-up offices," or mini Secretary of State offices with a single person behind the desk.
These would be brought to highly populated areas, ideally places where older people, who are not comfortable with technology, will be.
"They'll go to senior centers, places of worship, grocery stores, places where people already are gathering, and that's where they can get their services done with the state," Benson said. "I think the biggest thing we’ve really done is change it from a model where you just go to a branch office and wait in line, to looking at the transactions that people do with our office, and there's a whole range of them, and finding the most convenient way for each transaction to be delivered to our citizens."
According to data from Benson's office, in 2018, 74 percent of Secretary of State tasks were being done inside traditional offices. In 2020, only 40 percent were.
Benson said her kiosks and pop-ups will make it so an even smaller percentage of people need to go into offices, which should mean there's never a line and always an open appointment.
To reach that level of efficiency, Benson said, she needs two things from the legislature: changes in the law so that people can do more tasks online and money.
"We've asked the legislature to expedite this consideration. Obviously, there's a lot of significant amount of COVID funding they received from the federal government that needs to be spent this fiscal year by September," she said. "This is should be not a difficult decision for the legislature to make. We hope they make it in the next few weeks and it's a way to immediately address this, this backlog of transaction allotment."
If her office gets that money from the legislature, we could see more kiosks, pop-up offices, and traditional office appointments as early as this fall.
In order to deal with the appointment backlog we're seeing right now, Benson also asked for additional money to hire more employees.
In the meantime, if you are struggling to get an appointment, 50 percent of next-day appointments open every day at 8 a.m. on the Secretary of State website.
You have to act fast, but getting one of these appointments is possible.