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Secretary of State branch efficiency a major issue

Visits to the Secretary of State office can be a day-long affair for people hoping to renew driver’s licenses, among other common bureaucratic tasks.

This year’s candidates for Secretary of State say they want to change that. The seat will be vacated by term-limited Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

“We need to partner with the private sector, just like we’ve done with hunting licenses and fishing licenses,” said Republican candidate Ruth Johnson.

This would allow for residents to renew driver’s licenses or buy license tabs at retail stores, creating greater convenience and cheaper costs for the state, she said.

Democratic candidate Jocelyn Benson could not be reached for comment, but Michelle Shamaly, vice president of College Democrats, said Benson wants to make things easier for all residents.

“She also wants to make sure the experiences at secretary of state service branches are pleasant,” the Clinton Township junior said. “We’ve all experienced long lines.”

Benson’s website said she would like to work with credit card companies to allow for the use of credit cards at secretary of state branch offices, as well as improve efficiency by creating “one stop service centers” through partnerships with other state offices.

The candidates hoping to fill the position are Benson, Johnson, Libertarian Scotty Boman, John Anthony La Pietra of the Green Party and Robert Gale of the US Taxpayers Party.

Johnson campaign

Johnson, the Oakland County Clerk, said she cut more than $1 million from the county budget during her time in office and is ready to cut costs and cut down on voting fraud as secretary.

“First, I would like to put in an election crimes unit,” she said. “We need to work on government to remove waste and fraud.”

As the Oakland Clerk, Johnson said she exposed several instances of voter fraud and established an Identity Protection Task Force.

The driver’s responsibility fee needs to be rescinded, she said, and secretary of state branch offices need to be more efficient.

Battle Creek senior Travis Faber, first vice chair of College Republicans, said Johnson has a lot of experience and is well prepared to take over as secretary.

“As county clerk she deals with voter fraud and making sure elections go smoothly,” he said. “Ruth Johnson’s a fiscal conservative. She has saved her county a lot of money with some of the programs she’s implemented.”

Benson’s plan

Benson, a law professor at Wayne State University Law School, teaches election law and published a book on the role of the secretary of state in enforcing election and campaign finance laws.

Her website said Benson plans to reduce voter fraud by instituting random audits on optical scan voting machines to ensure proper functionality. She also plans to form a voter confidence task force that would identify issues that harm voters’ confidence in elections.

Shamaly said Benson is very knowledgeable about the secretary of state office and is an excellent candidate.

“Jocelyn Benson has literally wrote a book on secretaries of state, combining the best practices across multiple states, finding out what those practices are and what works, making sure that elections are safe and everybody gets the right to vote,” she said.

Shamaly said Benson wants to implement no-reason absentee voting, which is great for college students.

“Anything that can allow a voter more access to be able to vote and use their right to vote is going to be good for the people,” she said. “Making sure everybody’s voice is heard is very important.”

Other candidates

Libertarian Scotty Boman, a physics instructor at Wayne County Community College, said he supports no-reason absentee voting and wants to make the absentee process more secure.

“Right now it’s far too easy to cheat,” Boman said. “What I would support is for people who are not able to show up in person to either pick up or drop off an absentee ballot, that they at least have some sort of identification in order to protect their own ballot, such as a PIN number.”

John Anthony La Pietra of the Green Party said he has spent 10 years working in state and local government and wants to help Michigan voters get fairer, better elections, according to the League of Women Voters of Michigan Voter Guide 2010.

Robert Gale of the US Taxpayers Party has been a self-employed businessman for more than twenty five years. According to the Voter Guide, Gale would like to turn the secretary of state office over to the private sector to increase its efficiency.