Benson says 60% of SOS transactions are done without visiting branch offices

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Tuesday touted an expansion of online service offerings as her office recovers from a pandemic-induced appointment backlog. 

Benson, during a Tuesday news briefing, said Michigan residents can now conduct more than half of all transactions without visiting a branch office. Overall, she said, about 60% of transactions are being done virtually. That's an increase from 28% in 2018, she said.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson touts an expansion of virtual service offerings during a news briefing at a branch office in Detroit on Dec. 14, 2021. Benson said Michigan residents can now conduct more than half of all transactions without visiting an office.

Of the 65 services offered at SOS offices, 32 are available online. Residents make about 30,000 SOS transactions each day and about 60% of those are done without visiting SOS locations. The most popular services are now available online, at machines and by mail, officials said. 

“We've doubled the number of services available online and most of you rarely need to visit our offices and instead you can conduct business with us in the comfort of your own home or while grabbing groceries at the local grocery store," said Benson, while touring a branch on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit. "To save you time and make interacting with our office easier, we have focused on improving three key components of our operations: convenience, efficiency, and customer service."

The shift follows technology upgrades Benson's administration implemented in 2019 and this year. More than 150 new self-service stations have been installed — many at grocery stores open nights and weekends — through a public-private partnership.

By removing the “take-a-ticket-and-wait” system that had hour-long wait times, office visits take just 20 minutes or less. The old system, Benson said, was "clearly failing people in Michigan."

"That's not a wait time, 20 minutes is the total amount of time people spend in our office," she said. "This is a dramatic turnaround compared to 2018 when many offices routinely had wait times that lasted several hours before service was even seen."

Benson stressed Tuesday that it's "taken us time to turn things around after decades of neglect" and "we're not done" with improvements. 

The department, she said, is looking to fill more than 50 vacancies across the state and she urged residents with strong customer service skills to apply.

Benson is also seeking a state appropriation to fund six additional mobile offices that will bring Secretary of State services directly to seniors, rural residents and to those who have internet and mobility limitations.

The state launched its first mobile office in southeast Michigan in October. It has helped about 400 residents obtain state identification, renew disability placards and replace wellness vehicle titles, she said.

Benson said her office continues to recover from a backlog of appointments due in part to the state legislature's expiration of extensions for renewals of driver's licenses, state ID cards, temporary instruction permits, and vehicle registrations that expired on or after March 1, 2020.

"Those (backlogs) are mostly now finished and there's no way to say definitively if the backlog itself is finished, especially as the pandemic continues because we don't know if residents still want to conduct transactions they skipped due to the pandemic," she said.

"Some of you had frustrating experiences this spring and summer when the backlog was at its worst," she said, "or in the years after I inherited a truly broken operating system."

For those visiting branch offices, Benson added, the department's system upgrades have enabled about 2,500 people each day who visit offices without a scheduled appointment to be served immediately. 

"The few who arrive when offices are busy are assisted in scheduling a return visit convenient for them, usually for the same day or next day," she said. 

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