In what has turned out to be one of the most substantive races this fall, Republican Terri Land and Democrat Melvin Butch Hollowell, the major party candidates for secretary of state, have offered competing ideas on improvements to branch office service and voting.
Hollowell, a Detroit attorney, said in many of Michigan’s 173 branch offices “people are treated like cattle.” He proposed assigning one member of each office’s existing staff to the duty of greeting people as they arrive, directing them to the right line and helping them fill out paperwork.
These “greeters” will also save the state money, he said. “If you have somebody cutting through the red tape for you, you don’t have to spend as much of the state employees’ time on transactions.”
Land, who is from Byron Center and served eight years as Kent County clerk, said her goal is to eliminate lines all together by providing more services online. Offices can receive information directly from insurance companies using the Internet, she said, and people will also be able to renew their driver’s licenses and update license plate tabs online, Land said.
Hollowell proposed placing kiosks similar to Automatic Teller Machines in malls and supermarkets, with which people will be able to renew various state licenses. Hollowell added that the kiosks will produce revenue through advertisement sales.
When people come into offices, Land said implementing “flextime” working schedules in offices that handle high traffic will speed up service. Through the program, employees will be able to choose between arriving to work early and leaving early and arriving to work later and leaving later, Land said.
“You don’t have half the office leaving to lunch at the same time during the lunch hours when most people come in to do their business,” she said.
Flextime will allow branch offices to offer customers extended weekday hours, and it will also allow them to be open on Saturdays, Land said, because the program allows employees to take off a weekday in exchange for working on Saturday.
Hollowell said he also wants to extend branch office hours, create separate lines for designated services and waive state fees for any customer waiting longer than a half hour in line.
Both candidates support different methods of voting. Land said voters should scan their driver’s licenses – non-drivers can obtain free State Identification cards – to obtain ballots. She said only the information found on the licenses can be accessed by scanning the cards.
But Hollowell said people should have the option of presenting any type of valid identification because social security numbers can be accessed through the license strips.
Hollowell said instead of using punch cards, which he said led to 130,000 spoiled ballots in last August’s primary elections, the entire state should adopt optic scanning systems – already used in 58 percent of Michigan’s precincts. The conversion will be fully funded by the federal legislation set aside for states implementing the scanners, he said.
Land said both punch cards and optical scanners work well, but the state would spend too much money by buying scanners from a single vender.
Hollowell said each county will be free to buy scanners from a variety of venders, but the state will be able to save money by buying scanners in bulk.
Both candidates agree that election dates need to be changed. Hollowell said the primary elections should be pushed back to after Labor Day to give people a chance to return from vacations and to shorten the campaign season.
Land said in addition to pushing back the primary date, elections should be consolidating into four separate elections – each focusing on a certain issue, such as education.
The two candidates disagree on how to let college students change their voting addresses to the city where they attend college. Land said students can do this online, but Hollowell said Internet registration is a deliberate burden to drive college students away from polls. He said students can obtain provisional ballots at local branch offices.
Green Party candidate Ray Ziarno and U.S. Taxpayer’s Party candidate Charles Conces are also on the ballot for the Tuesday general election.