Bill would curb online sales of SOS appointments

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Michigan House lawmaker hopes to curb online sales of Secretary of State appointment slots, a practice that has cropped up amid a crush of demand at branch offices.

The bill proposed by Rep. Ranjeev Puri, D-Canton Township, would prohibit a third party from selling Secretary of State branch appointments.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office supports the legislation, which the department said addresses an issue branches have "already been monitoring for and preventing."

People wait in line at the Secretary of State branch office in Novi on March 16, 2021. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)

"People can only book appointments for themselves and we cancel ones where it’s apparent someone may be attempting to do that," said Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for Benson's office. She noted that exceptions are made for individuals helping family members to make an appointment.

The proposal would allow Michigan's attorney general to take action against websites or platforms that allow individuals to sell appointments by booking a block of appointments and then transferring it someone else's name upon sale, Puri said.

"We just didn’t think it was right to profit off of other people’s hardship," he said.

Puri said the issue came to his attention while taking calls from residents seeking help making a Secretary of State branch appointment.

Some constituents reported seeing appointments for sale on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace and Craiglist, he said. Other lawmakers reported similar stories from constituents. 

"We’re still kind of unpacking how this is happening," Puri said. 

The intent of the legislation is to make an exception for individuals helping a family member to make an appointment. 

"We don’t want to stop the ability to transfer because there’s obviously a need for those who are helping others and acting in good faith," Puri said. 

Puri's bill was referred to the House Oversight Committee, where testimony regarding the state's new appointment-only system has largely been focused.

Benson in May announced that the state would switch permanently to an appointment-only system, arguing that the walk-in and take-a-number system was inefficient and led to long wait times. 

But, amid of a backlog of pandemic-deferred renewals, wait times for appointments grew. Some residents reported a two- to three-month wait to make an appointment under the advanced system and difficulties scheduling an appointment through the next-day appointment system.

Amid criticism from Republicans and demands for walk-in service, Benson in June announced that she would add 350,000 appointment slots through Sept. 30 to help resolve the backlog. 

If there is availability at the office people who walk in are able to receive service. Additionally, the Secretary of State call line and greeters at branch offices can help people make an appointment.