Michigan Secretary of State Benson defends online dating system

Everyone wants to get in and out of their local branch of Secretary of State faster, but Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told lawmakers on Thursday that her office’s online appointment system was the right way to ensure let this happen now and in the future.

But she acknowledged that her office needed to make short-term improvements to a system implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic that recently sparked a setback.

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“Part of the goal is to reduce the number of people who have to go to branches, that’s the direction we’re heading in, so that those office visits become efficient and convenient,” Benson said, a Democrat at a press conference. Hearing of the supervisory committee.

“But we also make sure that when we look at other options and invest in other options, we actually make them options that people want, and that we move forward, not just enjoying the news. technologies, but new innovative ideas from other industries. already explored. ”

Benson pledged to review efficiencies over the next two weeks and mentioned a range of possible changes: offering more appointment hours, offering specific appointments for certain services, temporarily opening offices on weeknights and weekends, create ephemeral offices in places such as senior centers and Suite. She also plans to visit all state branches before the fall.

It’s all part of a larger strategy to get more services online.

Lawmakers have noted that residents with internet access issues cannot get appointments, others cannot get to a branch only during business hours, and many are simply in need of more service. sooner than they can get an appointment.

Committee Chairman Steven Johnson R-Wayland said the concept of online dating is great, but currently offices need to make walk-in services available to those who need help immediately.

“We’re not saying get rid of appointments… We’re saying why not have that walk-in option?” Johnson said.

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At the end of April, Benson announced that the Secretary of State’s branches would keep the online appointment system created to keep people safe during the pandemic. She said customers prefer the process to the traditional number picker system, which often meant people had to wait hours to be seen.

But the current system – and the pandemic – has created its own backlog. Social distancing and other pandemic safety guidelines have resulted in branches allowing fewer people inside and other restrictions have resulted in fewer daily appointments. This means that it can take months for someone to find an open appointment at their local branch.

Branches offer following appointments, freeing up availability each morning at 8 a.m. and noon. But it is akin to a mad rush, with time slots that fill up in a few minutes.

Employees need more certainty than notice if they have to take time off work to get to the branch, Johnson said.

“I mean, there’s a reason they sell dates on Facebook Marketplace – because it doesn’t work,” Johnson said.

Benson said his office call center recently quadrupled its capacity in an effort to help people schedule appointments faster.

Representative David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, championed the need for walk-in options. He told Benson that as long as he has a good book he doesn’t mind waiting in a branch of the Secretary of State for hours.

Benson said most people don’t want to wait that long in an office. She also noted that secretary of state employees dislike the walk-in model, as it tends to result in irregular and longer hours. And she said knowing what people want ahead of time speeds up the processing of their applications.

One of the reasons for the backlog in the secretary of state’s offices is that lawmakers have extended the deadline for renewing driver’s licenses and license plates. This means that many more people than usual need an appointment or drive their vehicles with expired registrations. Benson says she spoke to Michigan State Police and some local law enforcement agencies about leniency for non-compliant motorists

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Long wait times and inefficient service at a branch of the Secretary of State are not a new problem. Benson noted that over the past decades, branch funding and staffing has declined while the need for services has increased.

The backlog will go away on its own over the next six months, Benson said. But she vowed that the changes coming from her office – and more funding and legislative changes to the legislature – would make the problems go away sooner.

Contact Dave Boucher at [email protected] or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @ Dave_Boucher1.

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