Government should meet folks where they are

Many lawmakers have repeatedly pressed Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in recent weeks to resume in-person services at her branch offices around Michigan.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Benson closed the Secretary of State branch offices — where Michiganders go to renew their driver’s licenses, IDs, and vehicle registrations, and more — to walk-in services. Instead, she offered more services online and at remote kiosks in places like supermarkets and encouraged residents to use those, and allowed scheduled in-person appointments. The agency’s website says appointments can be scheduled up to six months in advance or in as little as one day’s notice.

Several residents, however, have complained of long wait times to get appointments and no help over the phone. Rural residents, especially, can’t benefit from the kiosks — the closest one to Alpena is in Gaylord.

Lawmakers have demanded Benson open the offices to walk-ins once more now that coronavirus statistics are headed in the right direction.

We’ll say, first, that we appreciate Benson’s efforts to modernize her office and offer more convenient choices for Michiganders, such as the supermarket kiosks. For many Michiganders, that’s allowed them to do their business quickly and efficiently, without giving up whole mornings or afternoons waiting for someone to call their number at a branch office.

However, government must meet its constituents where they are, and shouldn’t require constituents to come to it. Large swaths of Northeast Michigan lack reliable internet connections, and many residents here and elsewhere are uncomfortable using that technology. With no self-service kiosks anywhere near, Northeast Michiganders and the thousands of other Michiganders in similar situations get stuck if the appointment system proves unreliable.

With most coronavirus restrictions already lifted, we join those lawmakers who say Benson should make all options available to Michiganders to do the important business they need to do with her office.


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