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Secretary of State must be more accessible, resume walk-ins

Sectors of Michigan’s economy continue to reopen following the relaxation of burdensome COVID-19 restrictions, but Secretary of State offices remain closed for walk-in service.

That’s a problem.

And it’s one I’ve heard about from many people I represent in Northeast Michigan as they look to get key documents renewed or questions answered. They have had little luck with their inquiries online and just want to be able to talk to someone in person. For many, this is a matter of convenience.

The Secretary of State has a number of self-service locations located at branches and businesses throughout the state, but very few of these are in northern Michigan. Out of the 146 self-service stations, only five are found in northern Michigan and none are found in Northeast Michigan or in the Upper Peninsula.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has indicated that walking away from walk-in services is the way of the future, but the Legislature has been working in the budget process to reopen both Secretary of State and Unemployment Insurance Agency offices to ensure our state reemerges from the past year in strong fashion. I also have sent a letter to Secretary of State Benson and was joined by other northern Michigan legislators demanding the resumption of walk-in service.

In place of traditional walk-in services has been an appointment system — and such appointments have been hard to come by in many areas of the state.

It has been reported that many metro Detroit offices don’t have anything available until August. It’s also a system that relies on people both having and handling the necessary technology in the form of a computer and reliable internet. Many in rural Michigan do not have that access — and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has slowed progress in that area further with recent vetoes of legislation which would increase opportunities for broadband expansion.

The website to schedule appointments is only active for a handful of hours per day and many people receive prompts that their requests cannot be processed due to high volume. Calling to set up an appointment has been difficult for many, as well. Cell phone reception is spotty in rural areas and, after the mess we saw for months to get unemployment claims fulfilled, I can’t blame people in the least for wanting to avoid dealing with an arm of this administration on the phone.

The Secretary of State’s office said the current policy provides a new, service-driven era of operations and asserts the data is showing that, once people get an appointment, they are largely happy with the system because they are in and out in 20 minutes.

But the caveat there is noticeable. Once people get an appointment.

That is akin to pointing out someone standing in the rain will no longer be soaked once they have an umbrella. Twenty minutes is little consolation for people who have to wait weeks or months to get assistance.

In that time, essential documents such as registration or identification could be passing their expiration dates and people in possession of them have nowhere to turn.

The idea that people could be in danger of operating their vehicles unlawfully — through no fault of their own — because they have been shut out by an appointment application system is simply unacceptable.

Why is the Secretary of State putting people in that position after many have experienced months of stress and hardship?

It’s time to enact policies that will make the Secretary of State more accessible to more Michiganders. It’s time to fully reopen our branch offices across our state — and that includes general, walk-in service.

State Rep. Sue Allor, R-Wolverine, represents the 106th state House District serving Alpena, Presque Isle, Alcona, and Iosco counties, as well as part of Cheboygan County.

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