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Opinion: Secretary of State has a plan for wait times

Jocelyn Benson

The people of Michigan deserve to be able to get in and out of a Secretary of State branch office in under 30 minutes. Their experience should be smooth, efficient and pleasant.

For decades the Department of State has fallen short of that expectation. When I visited every branch office in the state during my first 100 days in office and talked with customers and employees, it became very clear that our branch operating system is inconsistent, outdated and inefficient.

It’s unacceptable, and it needs to change.

Jocelyn Benson

Your average wait time in a Secretary of State branch office has steadily increased every year for nearly two decades. It can be traced back to decisions starting in 2004 that have led to closing 42 offices, many of which were in metro Detroit and other urban areas where, not coincidentally, average wait times are among the highest in the state.

That increase has continued this year, and notably not as much as in previous years.

This year the increase is the result of more than a continuation of the trend. In February, a system-wide computer upgrade known as “CARS" added to the increase. The long-overdue reform initiated by my predecessor made more services available online and also significantly increased average transaction times in our offices as employees adjusted to the new system.

The new federal REAL ID requirement is further exacerbating wait times in Michigan and across the country. This law requires that all drivers licenses and IDs meet new security standards by Oct. 1, 2020, if they are to be used for domestic air travel and other purposes. This means many license renewals — previously done online — will require branch visits, more than doubling the number of residents coming to our offices.

This is what we’ve inherited, and why in 2019 the increase in wait times you’ve experienced for decades continues to grow.

We have a plan to change this.

I’m proud that in less than a year we’ve already made significant progress toward our goal of 30-minute wait times. Most significantly we created the option for anyone to plan ahead and make an appointment for any service. These appointments were previously only available in 43 of our branches and in limited numbers. We have expanded them statewide, so that every office in every corner of Michigan provides this service, ensuring every resident in our state now has an option to get in and out of a branch in under 30 minutes.

More changes are on the way soon, including:

  • Upgraded self-service kiosks
  • Expanded online services
  • An improved website to prepare you with what you’ll need to bring for your branch visit

And as we continue to work to shorten wait times for walk-in customers, if you have Secretary of State business to do, please go online to first. If your transaction isn’t offered there, plan ahead and make an appointment at Either option will ensure you avoid a long wait at the branch.

It’s going to take time to solve problems that were decades in the making. These structural issues are the result of decades of disinvestment and short-term solutions that have yielded only partial results. But I’m committed to modernizing the way we do business in this state. Our residents deserve no less.

Jocelyn Benson is Michigan secretary of state.