Dillard Plan to Close Dozens of Local Branch Offices Across Michigan a Disaster Waiting to Happen

Dillard Plan to Close Dozens of Local Branch Offices Across Michigan a Disaster Waiting to Happen

Democratic Candidate Calls for Closing Dozens of Local Secretary of State Branches, Inconveniencing Millions

LANSING, Mich. – Ruth Johnson for Michigan campaign manager Gary Koutsoubos today blasted a plan by Democratic Secretary of State candidate Godfrey Dillard to close dozens of local secretary of state branch offices across the state.

Dillard’s plan would inconvenience millions of Michiganders who would be forced to drive farther and wait in longer lines to get the important Secretary of State services they need.

“Godfrey Dillard’s plan to close local Secretary of State branches across the state would be a disaster for Michigan residents,” said Koutsoubos.  “Closing branch offices would increase wait times, force residents to drive much longer distances, take more time off of work and would cost the state a fortune.”

On the campaign trail, Dillard has repeatedly called for closing local branch offices across the state. Last week he told WDET’s Pat Batcheller that if elected he would close all of the 17 branch offices in Wayne County and consolidate services in one location.

Under Dillard’s proposal, if elected he would close branch offices in Belleville, Brownstown, Canton, Dearborn, Hamtramck, Inkster, Livonia, Redford, Taylor, Trenton, Westland and close 5 of the 6 offices in Detroit.

Consolidating services in one location per county would result in the closure of nearly 50 local offices in communities across the state, from Grand Rapids to Livonia to Saginaw and more—more than 1 in every 3 across Michigan!

Ruth Johnson has not closed a single branch office during her 4 years as Secretary of State.  She has made services better, simpler and faster at branch offices and through groundbreaking services like ExpressSOS.com that has empowered Michigan residents to skip the line by getting online.

ExpressSOS.com has processed over 5.7 million transactions in the last 4 years, trimming lines and wait times dramatically.

The Detroit Free Press today highlighted Dillard’s office closure plan as one of the reasons they determined Dillard is “ill prepared” to be Secretary of State.

Residents can find their local Secretary of State branch office online at http://services.sos.state.mi.us/servicelocator/

Ruth Johnson deserves 2nd term

Ruth Johnson deserves 2nd term

From the Detroit Free Press

Voters should use two criteria to decide whether an incumbent deserves another term: Did the officeholder do well? Could the challenger do better?

The first term of Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican, has been a pleasant surprise. We dinged Johnson in 2010 by endorsing her opponent, citing Johnson’s solicitation of tea party support by “flogging tangential issues like immigration, health care legislation and gender-altering surgery.”

But 2014’s Johnson is a different campaigner, focused on her record of accomplishments, largely disregarding flashpoint social issues or her opponent’s weaknesses.

And her accomplishments are substantial: Wait times at SOS offices are down, use of technology is up, and Johnson has maintained a focus on transparency often uncharacteristic of her party.

By both measures, RUTH JOHNSON wins the Free Press’ endorsement for a second term as secretary of state.

Johnson has improved Michiganders’ SOS experience, launching ExpressSOS.com, a website offering the full range of registration and renewal options. Some 5.7 million transactions have been conducted via the website. She has also piloted MI-TIME Line at the 10 busiest SOS branches — an electronic sign-in method that allows users to make an appointment by computer, phone, text or on-site, and receive texted updates as time of service approaches. It’s a smart way to make what was once an arduous process convenient for customers. Johnson plans to expand the service to other branches. She also has placed SOS access points in public libraries and AAA Michigan offices, another smart decision.

She also favors no-reason absentee voting and online voter registration, two measures that could increase election turnout.

Johnson is charged with overseeing campaign-finance disclosure at the state level, and in 2013, she bucked her own party by saying she would seek a rule change to require expanded disclosure of donors for certain types of political advertising. The Republican-controlled Legislature responded by passing a law, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, protecting such dark-money donors.

She is piloting a program to allow local municipalities to use the state’s online campaign-finance disclosure system. If cities and counties buy in, it could create a uniform and easily accessible system that increases transparency in political campaigns.

Johnson has backed away from some of her most hard-line stances: Her offices drew criticism for refusing to allow one partner in a married same-sex couple to change his last name via the same means as heterosexual married people; that process includes a nominal fee, but changing your name sans a state-sanctioned marriage certificate is a long, costly process. Johnson told the Free Press Editorial Board that she’ll abide by the law of the land, should the ruling against Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban be upheld.

In 2013, Johnson reversed a policy of refusing to issue driver’s licenses and state ID cards to immigrants granted the right to stay in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program. This wasn’t altruism or idealism on Johnson’s part; federal guidelines made it impossible for Johnson to continue to deny that access to DACA grantees.

Also ill-advised was an addition of a check box to the ballot application requiring the prospective voter to certify U.S. citizenship. A federal judge ordered Johnson to remove the check box from the ballot.

But on balance, Johnson’s term in office has held more good than bad.

And while Democratic opponent Godfrey Dillard’s record of achievement is commendable — as a litigator, law professor and diplomat — he seems ill-prepared for the office. He is keenly aware of the need to expand and preserve access to the ballot. But in an interview with the Free Press Editorial Board, Dillard said he would combat long lines at SOS offices by creating regional centers, indicating that he would reduce the number of offices in the state. We’re hard-pressed to understand how fewer offices would lead to quicker service.

Dillard also proposed dedicated lines for different services, which sounds like a good plan in theory, but in practice could lead to longer lines for common functions, with clerks idle at stations marked for less frequently needed services. He also seemed unaware of the online services and line-management technology already implemented by Johnson; Dillard dismissed such innovations, saying they benefit “the educated public” only.

Nor did Dillard express a particular passion for campaign-finance disclosure, a key — and embattled — function of the SOS office.

Johnson, if her bid for a second term is successful, should play to her strengths — a competent administration, a focus on transparency and oversight, improved voter turnout — and leave political talking points on the back burner.

 

Ruth Johnson continues to lead race for Secretary of State

Ruth Johnson continues to lead race for Secretary of State

From the Detroit Free Press

LANSING – Incumbent statewide Republicans — including Gov. Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson — are opening up bigger leads in their re-election bids with about a month to go, a new poll shows.

Nick DeLeeuw, Johnson’s spokesman, said her record speaks volumes.

“Ruth Johnson has spent the last four years making services better, easier and faster, so Michigan residents can get what they need done, then get on with their days, and that’s a record that resonates with voters,” he said.

Ken Coleman, spokesman for Dillard, said their campaign has only been active for about a month but they are excited by the response they have gotten from voters across the state.

“People tell us that they’re unhappy about the lack of customer service and resources dedicated to the election process,” Coleman said. “People want change and Godfrey has pledged go give them that.”

Michigan Secretary of State lauds phase out of Driver Responsibility Fees

Michigan Secretary of State lauds phase out of Driver Responsibility Fees

From the Oakland Press

Michigan’s Driver Responsibility Fees, assessed for traffic violations committed in the state, essentially penalized drivers twice for the same offense, and Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said she’s happy the fees are being phased out and replaced with a community service option.

Johnson, seeking a second and final four-year term on the Nov. 4 ballot, met with The Oakland Press Tuesday morning to talk about the fees, which she calls punitive, and the changes and improvements to her office in her first term.

“It really is a double fine for people,” Johnson said. “They’re already paying the ticket, which is not a small amount, and they’re already having their insurance rates go up.

“I felt that was like double indemnity,” Johnson said.

Michigan lawmakers enacted the fees in 2003 to improve traffic safety, but the fees instead created a finanical burden for people, Johnson said.

Beginning in January, legislation takes effect that creates a community service option in lieu of paying the fees.

Drivers may complete 10 hours of community service instead of paying fees for each violation that qualifies. The service must be completed within 45 days.

Qualified violations are no proof of insurance, driving without proper license/endorsement/vehicle group designator; driving while license expired, and driving while unlicensed or license not valid. Excluded are more serious offenses, such as drunken driving.

The fees for new violations will be reduced by 25 percent beginning Oct. 1, 2015 until they are phased out in 2019.

Johnson, 59, from Groveland Township, is a former Oakland County commissioner, county clerk and state lawmaker.

Her opponent in this year’s election is Democrat Godfrey Dillard from Detroit.

Michigan’s secretary of state office is responsible for license plates, vehicle registrations and driver licenses, and oversees state elections.

Johnson said her goal has been to reduce or eliminate time spent standing in line at any of the state’s 131 branch offices by expanding online and mobile services.

Michigan Secretary Of State Promotes Voter Registration

Michigan Secretary Of State Promotes Voter Registration

From WSGW

With key races coming on the November ballot across the country, September 23rd has been designated as National Voter Registration Day.  Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said many elections are very close,  citing one Congressional election where there were only 18 votes between the winning and losing candidates.
Johnson said you can register to vote now if you’ll be 18 years old on the day of the election, November 4th.  You can register at any Secretary of State branch or with your local city, township or village clerk.  October 6th is the last day to register to vote for the November 4th election.On the state’s website,   http://michigan.gov/vote you can check to see if you’re registered, request an absentee ballot or see a sample ballot for your precinct.

Task Force Releases Recommendations to Fight Auto Insurance Fraud

Task Force Releases Recommendations to Fight Auto Insurance Fraud

From WILX

At least $220 million. That’s how much Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson estimates auto insurance costs Michigan drivers.

“We have to fund through our insurance, catastrophic funds and uninsured motorist funds to the state and there’s also many other costs associated with it. Simply not fair,” she said.

Not fair, but a reality discovered last year on July 31, when branch offices surveyed all paper insurance certificates received that day, only to find more than 16 percent were fakes. Johnson put together the ‘Fighting Auto Insurance Rip-offs’ (FAIR) Task Force in response, which announced 17 recommendations, Wednesday. Some are legislative, while others departmental changes.

One recommendation is the creation of a fraud authority. Peter Kuhnmuench, Executive Director of the Insurance Institute of Michigan and task force member, is suggesting a five-year pilot authority that would cost drivers an extra three dollars a year to fund.

“What the fraud authority would do is simply two things. One, collect data from insurance companies on suspected fraud, so it could identify where the fraud is occurring,” said Kuhnmuench.

That would allow for, second, police and county prosecutors to go after the suspected fraud.

Another recommendation from the task force is sharing insurance verification systems with law enforcement like Michigan State Police.

“Every time you’re in a traffic stop, we’re looking at your certificate,” said 1st. Lt. Chris Hawkins. “If the Secretary of State’s office is being presented with a lot of fraudulent certificates, chances are we are too.”

A teamed approach to knocking out fraud for good.

Other organizations represented on the task force are: Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services, Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, Michigan Insurance Coalition, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and Michigan Association of Insurance Agents.

Other recommendations by the task force include: Mailers from the Dept. of State, Sanctions against unlicensed agents, Develop and maintain key fraud prevention contact points with carriers, Minimum term of insurance coverage for vehicle registration, Suspend/cancel license plates where invalid insurance is presented, Implement provisions for requiring insurance policy as provided for in MCL 257.227a, Improve internal detection systems, Promote seizure of plates in cancellation situations and Fraud detection training.

Michigan looks to reduce Secretary of State office wait times, partners with AAA, Huntington Bank

Michigan looks to reduce Secretary of State office wait times, partners with AAA, Huntington Bank

From MLive.com

LANSING — Michiganders will be able to renew their driver’s licenses and vehicle plates at certain AAA Michigan offices later this year.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced the partnership this week with the Dearborn-based auto club, which provides insurance and other services for members. It’s the latest in several ventures aimed at reducing wait times at Secretary of State offices.

“We’re trying to connect people to the services in the most convenient way possible,” Johnson said.

By early fall, AAA’s offices in downtown Detroit, Livonia and Grand Rapids will have computers and printers available for customers to visit ExpressSOS.com, where they can renew or replace driver’s licenses and state ID cards, renew license plate tabs, update addresses and take care of other business. Customers can print their receipts as proof until their tabs, license or ID arrives in the mail. Certain transactions must be done at the SOS office, such as updating a license photo.

AAA expects to eventually have the computers set up in all of its 31 locations. AAA is providing the computers and printers at no cost to taxpayers.

“Our more than 1.4 million members look to AAA for guidance and support on automobile-related issues, so it is a natural fit that we partner with Secretary Johnson and open our branch locations to ExpressSOS service,” Randy Williams, AAA Michigan vice president for field operations, said in a statement.

While many residents already can access ExpressSOS.com from home or elsewhere, about one in five Michigan homes don’t have broadband access.

Johnson said she’s also working with Huntington Bank to eventually have computers with ExpressSOS services at bank branches. In the meantime, the bank is sharing its best practices to improve the Secretary of State’s customer service.

The department last year launched a pilot project to install kiosks at two Meijer stores where customers can use the online services, and the state also recommends public libraries as an access point.

The website has handled more than 4.8 million transactions since it launched in 2011, helping to reduce wait times for those who do have to visit the branch offices, Johnson said.

Budget cuts have led the department to cut staff and branches; it now has 131 branches, down from more than 180.

“Our goal is really to get the lines shorter,” Johnson said, noting that some branches have had over three-hour waits. “That’s just not acceptable.”

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson Announces Bid for Second Term

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson Announces Bid for Second Term

Johnson Launches Statewide Tour to Meet with Families, Ask for Their Votes

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson today officially announced her bid for a second term, sharing her vision with voters to build on her success enhancing customer service, protecting the ballot box, fighting fraud and improving the lives of Michiganians.

Johnson’s high-energy, four-stop Campaign Kick-off Tour included motorcycles, buses and boats. Johnson rode a Harley-Davidson Sportster in Waterford, was flanked by a fleet of buses and other motor vehicles in Lansing, met with supporters in Grand Rapids and paddled her kayak in Holland to highlight the many ways her office positively impacts residents across the state.

“We’re working smarter and our customers are seeing the results of what we’ve accomplished with 25 percent less staff than the office had just 10 years ago,” Johnson said. “We’ve tripled our online services. We’re securing our elections while increasing access to the ballot box. And we’re improving lives through organ donation and ensuring our veterans have access to the benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”

At her first stop, in her hometown of Waterford, Johnson was cheered by supporters, her husband, family and friends. A longtime motorcycle rider and proponent of motorcycle safety, Johnson rode into the event at ABC Harley-Davidson, decked in a black leather jacket, helmet and other safety gear.

Her hometown, she told the crowd, is still a place where neighbors watch out for one another, where people value hard work and grow up learning how to fix what’s broken – all core values she has carried with her through her public service career. “We grew up a few miles away in a cinder-block house that was about 400 square feet when my parents bought it as part of their American dream,” she said. “My dad, an immigrant who never did get his high school diploma, was an autoworker. My mom worked at Chrysler, too, painting dashboards as they came down the line.”

Johnson, who put herself through college and graduate school, is a former state representative who led an investigation into government corruption that resulted in jail time for one official. She also served as the Oakland County clerk/register of deeds.

Johnson’s election reform efforts include establishing Michigan’s first-ever post-election audits, creating the first-ever online training for Michigan poll workers, and working to remove those who have died, moved out of state and who are not U.S. citizens from the voter rolls. She also toughened up campaign contribution reporting rules and made it easier for troops overseas to vote as part of her OPERATION: OUR TROOPS COUNT.

Johnson also:

Shortened branch office lines by putting the most popular Secretary of State services online, at ExpressSOS.com. Launched in 2011, the website has handled an incredible 4.5 million transactions.

Launched a new line management system in the busiest branches that allows customers to take a number electronically, so they can run errands while they wait.

Piloted a program with Michigan retail giant Meijer allowing customers in two stores to get their milk, bread, other needs and their license plate tabs in a single stop.

Created a task force with police and prosecutors to fight insurance fraud.

Johnson has also proven her leadership by increasing organ donation in Michigan. With common-sense changes, and at no cost to taxpayers, a record-breaking 1.4 million more people have been added to Michigan’s Organ Donor Registry in the past three years alone.

A second term, Johnson said, will mean a continued focus on customer service, convenience, elections integrity and consumer protection.

“We have a great team in Lansing and despite all of our accomplishments, there’s more we want to do to improve how we serve our customers,” Johnson said. “I look forward to traveling the state, meeting voters personally and asking for their votes so I can continue this important work.”

Election campaign finance reports in Kalamazoo County to go online under Michigan pilot program

Election campaign finance reports in Kalamazoo County to go online under Michigan pilot program

From MLive

KALAMAZOO, MI — Kalamazoo County residents interested in viewing campaign finance records of local elected officials will soon have online accessibility to those reports.

Kalamazoo County was recently selected by Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to be one of two counties to participate in a pilot program that will offer electronic campaign-finance reporting for local candidates and ballot questions.

While the public already has access to campaign finance reports of statewide candidates through the Secretary of State’s website, reports filed by local candidates for office in Kalamazoo County can only be viewed by going to the county clerk’s office and looking at paper filings.

Candidates for government office are required to file pre-election and post-election reports on campaign contributions and expenses. The pilot program, which will also be offered in Macomb County, seeks to increase transparency by making the statements more readily available, said Fred Woodhams, a spokesman in Johnson’s office.

“Currently, some clerks do offer reports in a PDF version, paper reports that are online,” Woodhams said. “The goal with this program is to provide that level of transparency and accountability that the public has come to expect at the statewide level.”

The program will also allow candidates for local office to file their campaign finance reports electronically, as opposed to turning in hard copies to the county clerk’s office.

Woodhams said there wasn’t a specific reason that Kalamazoo and Macomb counties were selected for the pilot program, although he noted that Johnson wanted to work with two larger counties to ensure any bugs could be worked out before launching the program statewide.

“They were just identified as larger counties and counties we have worked with in the past,” Woodhams said of Kalamazoo and Macomb. “They seemed like good candidates with clerks who might be interested.”

Kalamazoo County Clerk Tim Snow said he was excited to be selected.

“I haven’t heard much about it, but I understand it will be very similar to what is out there on the state’s website,” Snow said. “I think they know I have an interest, so I was glad to be asked to participate.”

Snow said his office is currently working on a separate system that will allow the public to search past campaign finance reports of active candidate committees. He said the state’s program allowing users to access current reports should “complement this project nicely.”

Woodhams said one benefit of the program is that it be done entirely online and won’t require clerks to purchase new software. He said he was unsure how the public will ultimately access the database, but it’s likely that the main page would be hosted by the state and would be linked to on individual county websites.

At Tuesday’s Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners meeting, commissioner Julie Rogers, D-Kalamazoo Township, applauded the pilot program, calling it “long overdue.”

“I am very pleased that Clerk Snow is partnering with our Secretary of State,” Rogers said after commissioners unanimously approved the partnership. “I am very proud that Kalamazoo County will be a pilot and I hope that every county will be implementing it.”

Woodhams said although a firm date has not been set, he expects the pilot program to launch later this year and be expanded to the entire state by early 2015.

Snow said said it’s unlikely the system will be available before candidates in this fall’s elections must upload their finance reports.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson Kicks Off Donate Life Month at Wayne State

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson Kicks Off Donate Life Month at Wayne State

From East Village Magazine

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and organ donation leaders kicked off Donate Life Month at Wayne State University April 2 with music, awards and an energetic call for community members to sign up on Michigan’s Organ Donor Registry.

The kickoff also included a one-day campaign by a small army of volunteers — mostly organ recipients and their family and friends — who spread out across 80 secretary of state offices to encourage customers to sign up on the state’s organ donor rolls.

“We made huge strides in expanding the organ donor rolls with more than 1.4 million people added in the past three years alone,” Johnson said, to cheers during the ‘Heart of a Warrior’ event at Wayne State, home to the WSU Warriors. “Today, Wayne State students, faculty and community members really have shown us their heart by being willing to sign up as potential donors.”

Radio personality Ace of WKQI radio was also on hand. Gift of Life Michigan and the Michigan Eye-Bank handed out T-shirts to students.

The events were part of the continued partnership between the secretary of state’s office, Gift of Life Michigan and the Michigan Eye-Bank.

“Michigan has made tremendous progress in our efforts to save and improve lives, and we credit Johnson and all SOS workers for that success,” said Richard Pietroski, CEO of Gift of Life Michigan, the state’s organ and tissue donor program. “Every time someone joins the Donor Registry, they give hope to the more than 3,300 people in Michigan who are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant and the tens of thousands more who will benefit from tissue transplants. Every single person has the power to heal lives by making the decision to be a donor.”

Lisa Langley, the Michigan Eye-Bank, said more than 1,000 Michigan residents receive the gift of sight each year. “We express our gratitude to those who have joined the Donor Registry and look forward to helping others throughout our state make the decision to join the registry.”

During the celebration, Johnson also presented her annual Shining Star award to Beverly Butler, whose daughter Rebecca, a Wayne State University student, died in 2011, waiting for a lung transplant. Butler has continued to champion organ donation with her daughter’s sorority, WSU’s Alpha Gamma Delta.

“She is so inspiring, so motivating,” said Alpha Gamma Delta President Kelsey Skinner, who said Butler is really beloved and remains an “Alpha Gam mom.” The sorority also accepted the Gift of Life Campus Challenge trophy on behalf of Wayne State, which was this year’s winner in the annual organ donor drive competition among Michigan colleges.

“This is a cause close to our hearts and we could not be happier to be a part of such an empowering event,” said Skinner.

Visit www.giftoflifemichigan.com to find out more about organ donation.

Visit www.ExpressSOS.com to sign up on Michigan’s Organ Donor Registry and to access some of the secretary of state’s most popular services.