Johnson spars Dillard for re-election
Secretary for State Ruth Johnson is running for re-election by stressing that she has shortened lines to renew driver's licenses, while Democratic opponent Godfrey Dillard says a different approach can reduce wait times much more.
Johnson says she has tripled online services for getting license tabs and other items, helping to shorten lines and improve delivery times at the more than 130 secretary of state offices around Michigan. ExpressSOS.com has handled more than 3 million transactions, the Holly Republican said.
She has created a pilot program at Meijer and two other stores, which she hopes to expand, where customers "can buy milk, bread, fishing pole and your tabs right there." The driver's license transactions occur at a self-service station in the store.
"For customer service, we've done many things, and we'd like to expand on some of them to make lines shorter, faster, easier and better for people," Johnson said during an interview on the Michigan's Big Show radio program.
But Dillard, a longtime Detroit attorney, contends the Secretary of State's Office should eliminate its small, inadequate offices in strip malls and follow the lead of states like Georgia by consolidating offices and creating larger regional service centers where there is adequate parking, seating and facilities to quicken service times.
"I'm trying to shape a different vision for the Secretary of State's Office," Dillard says. "It's a different approach to delivery of services."
The 66-year-old former Foreign Services officer said he could make this change without increasing the budget.
Johnson argues she has shortened lines even though she has 25 percent fewer staffers than a decade ago and has had to cut her budget 20 percent.
Johnson led Dillard 41 percent-32.5 percent with almost 21 percent undecided in an Oct. 22-24 Detroit News-WDIV (Local 4) poll of 600 likely Michigan voters. It gave Johnson a 8.5-point lead in a survey with a plus-minus margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Another flash point in the campaign has been about voting. As Michigan's chief election officer, Johnson has emphasized "ensuring election integrity." She has taken deceased people and other ineligible people off the state's Qualified Voter File and done first-time election audits and online training of the state's 30,000 poll workers.
She also has advocated for more election reforms, such as allowing residents to vote absentee for any reason — compared with current requirements that include covering those 60 and older.
"Michigan has to continue to look at ways that we can make voting more convenient as long as we can protect the integrity and security of the ballot," Johnson said. "I do support no-reason absentee law as long as it has the same integrity level as the people coming into vote right at the precinct."
But she has emphasized she doesn't want to pursue no-reason absentee voting unless the voting files are clean — something Dillard says will never occur. "There are no voter files in the state that are up to date," he said, noting other states still do early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. "This is just a subterfuge on the absentee voting."
Dillard wants to put more emphasis on elections by expanding opportunities to vote. He said he wants to poll residents about what changes they would like and then implement pilot programs to show that ideas like no-reason absentee voting work.
Experience: Secretary of state, 2010-present; Oakland County clerk, 2004-2009; state representative for northern Oakland County, 1998-2003; Oakland County commissioner, 1988-1998
Experience: Longtime civil rights attorney; deputy counsel general in State Department; counsel in 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case involving University of Michigan affirmative action admissions