Benson to add 350K Secretary of State appointment slots through Sept. 30

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Amid legislative pushback against her switch to an appointment-only system, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Tuesday announced that her office would add 350,000 appointment slots through Sept. 30. 

Benson also plans to place greeters at the doors of each branch office to help people make appointments if they attempt to take a walk-in appointment. 

She said people seeking disability placards will receive priority, walk-in service if they speak to a greeter, though they are still encouraged to make an appointment. 

The added appointments are due to the innovation of branch employees "concerned about the chatter here in Lansing to revert back to a broken, take-a-number system," Benson said. Employees believe they could work "harder and faster" to shave down appointment slots from 20 minutes to 10 minutes on average and open some appointments, she said. 

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson speaks in Detroit in this Sept. 24, 2020, file photo.

The 350,000 appointments will represent a 25% increase through Sept. 30 and will be split between next-day and advance appointment slots. 

"It’s an extraordinary testament not just to their dedication to the department but their recognition that having residents schedule their visits ahead of time is a vastly superior way of doing business," Benson said of branch employees.

More changes and efficiencies are to come, she said. 

Benson criticized the Republican-controlled Legislature for their censure of an appointment-only system after years of cuts to funding for the Department of State. 

"I want to be abundantly clear," the Detroit Democrat said. "We’re making improvements in our department in the absence of any support from the Legislature. We’re going it alone, but we don’t have to.”

Benson also criticized the Legislation for contributing to a backlog of appointments by repeatedly extending renewal deadlines with a cutoff date of March 31, rather than a rolling deadline as Benson's office had requested. 

The hard deadline of March 31 meant everyone who had pushed off department services during the pandemic were seeking appointments all at once. 

Sen. Ruth Johnson, a Holly Republican and former secretary of state, applauded Benson for responding to the concerns of Michigan residents flustered by long waits under the appointment system. 

"However, it took far too long to make these common-sense changes, and Secretary Benson still needs to reopen the branches for same-day service," Johnson said. 

Rep. Steve Johnson, the Wayland Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, celebrated Benson's announcement and claimed it was a response to concerns voiced by Oversight Committee members during a hearing last month with the secretary. 

"Although there is far more to be done, such as fully opening SOS offices to walk-in visits, this is a good first step," Rep. Johnson said.

Benson renewed calls for increased funding, noting a Democratic proposal that would give the department another $25 million in funding to help with the appointment backlog. 

Last week, House Republican leaders dismissed the request in part because of Benson's decision to end walk-in appointments permanently .

Rep. Johnson said last week he was uninterested in "throwing more money" at the branch offices. On Tuesday, he doubled down on that stance.

“I find it interesting that Secretary Benson was able to increase appointments by 350,000 without any additional funding," Johnson said in a statement.