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Appointment-only visits to secretary of state here to stay

State of Michigan Secretary of State seal

Michigan residents who visit secretary of state offices will always need an appointment, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Thursday, making permanent a change that was made to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Gone are the days when a person could walk into a branch and wait in line. Benson called it an “antiquated, inefficient, take-a-number system that nobody liked.”

This year, she said, more than 1 million people with appointments have visited offices to renew driver’s licenses or conduct other business and have left within about 20 minutes. More than 60% of transactions are done online, by mail or at self-service stations.

“We’re going to listen to the people on this. It’s clear that do not want us to go backwards to the old ways of doing things, where on any given day you could spend hours waiting for a basic transaction in any given branch office,” said Benson, a Democrat.

She announced that appointment slots will be increased by 10% in the near future, with tighter scheduling that will enable the government to serve roughly 35,000 more residents per month.

Benson urged the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass bills that would let driver’s license applicants take a written test online or through third parties such as driving schools — instead of at a branch. Another proposal would allow veterans with the military equivalent of a commercial driver’s license to get a civilian license without having to go to an office to retrain and test.

She also will seek funding and authorization to launch small “pop-up” branch offices in cafes, grocery stores, pharmacies, large workplaces and at public events.

Benson acknowledged that people without internet or who are not web-savvy have more trouble booking appointments. Staff at a call center will help them book appointments, she said.

Benson called on legislators to fund call center improvements, to enable secretary of state staff to interact with residents virtually and to permit the department to partner with private entities like banks, insurers and auto dealers to provide services. Other legislation would let vehicle owners renew their registrations for two years rather than annually.