Johnson delivers first-ever State of the Secretary of State Address

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, in the first-ever State of the Secretary of State Address Tuesday in Lansing, highlighted challenges facing the Department of State, strategies to resolve those issues and outlined new initiatives to protect integrity in elections.

"In our first 100 days, we have been evaluating nearly every aspect of Secretary of State operations to find out what works, where our challenges lay and how we resolve those issues," Johnson said in her presentation, which was streamed live over the Internet via Ustream. "We owe the taxpayers an accounting of where we are and what we are going to do."

Among the top challenges outlined by Johnson is outdated technology that has contributed to unacceptable wait times at some branch offices, the lack of available online services and inconvenient customer service.

Johnson said a computer system known as the Business Application Modernization or BAM Project, despite an investment of $27.5 million tax dollars over the last five years, has never been operational. As a result, service across the department and branch system has suffered.

"This was supposed to revolutionize the way the Secretary of State Office did business and put our services online 24/7," said Johnson. "Instead, it has never worked--not a single day, not a single hour, not a single minute."

BAM has the potential to move one out of every four customer transactions out of the branch system and put them online. Johnson said she has enlisted the help of Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and that talks with the vendor are promising and they have pledged to renew their efforts to bring the project to completion. "We will hold their feet to the fire," Johnson said. "Michigan residents deserve no less."

In the meantime, Johnson said the department is working to implement online services and other changes outside of the BAM project to relieve wait times. Partnerships with private sector customers such as rental car companies are also being discussed which would allow them to register thousands of their fleet vehicles online rather than at branches.

Additionally, Johnson has directed staff to come up with the means to allow drivers to obtain new license plate tabs, online, right up through their birthday, by providing those drivers with a printable proof of purchase they can carry until they receive their tabs in the mail.

Other priority initiatives launched during Johnson's first 100 days in office include:

1. Cost-Cutting and Streamlining--through the implementation of best business practices, the fostering of public-private partnerships and expanded online efforts.

2. A Comprehensive Election/Legislative Reform Package--which includes proposals to:

* Create an Election Crimes Unit.

* Develop new online and regional election worker training to ensure ballot security. Election officials from around the state are working with the Bureau of Elections on this effort.

* Conduct post-election audits.

* Clean up voter rolls by identifying and removing deceased voters and the names of voters who have moved out of state.

* Require more campaign finance disclosure by closing loopholes, putting teeth into campaign finance laws and removing obsolete laws from the books. For example, under one of Johnson's proposals, candidates who refuse to file campaign finance reports could face possible forfeiture of their funds.

* Seek subpoena power for the Bureau of Elections, with court approval, so staff could assist in campaign finance violation investigations.

* Launch an iPhone application currently in development that would allow 24/7 access to state campaign finance data.

* Promoting voter turnout through a no-reason absentee ballot option and consolidating school election dates.

3. Improve the State's Poor Organ Donor Registration Rates--through various procedure and policy changes. Michigan currently ranks sixth from the bottom nationally in terms of registered donors.

Johnson, flanked by Secretary of State employees, supporters, organ donation leaders and business leaders, said the Department of State has made significant progress in the last three and a half months, including:

--Conducting a "Secret Shopper" program using volunteers from all walks of life to evaluate service and operations in the branch system. The survey found wait times of 1-3 hours at some of the Secretary of State's busiest branches. Johnson said she was pleased that results included largely positive feedback about Secretary of State staff who were called courteous, professional and helpful.

--Creating a new checklist, piloted in some branches, to help ensure customers have the documentation they need before they reach the counter to help reduce wait times.

--Requiring the department's top managers to attend ethics training.

--Launching a cash-handling task force to ensure the Secretary of State system uses best business practices in dealing with cash transactions.

--Meeting with top business and industry leaders and job providers across Michigan for input and suggestions on how government can get out of their way to assist them so they can get Michigan back to work.

--Cutting, within weeks of taking office, $2.6 million from the department's general fund budget which accounts for a nearly 20 percent reduction.

--Consolidating administrative office space to save as much as $150,000 annually. Additionally, talks are underway with the Michigan State Police to share office space and secure computer lines while saving tax dollars.

--Striving to give taxpayers the most value for their tax dollars by using up surplus stationery and envelopes with former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land's name on them, saving nearly $50,000.

--Issuing an administrative order allowing local clerks to reduce the number of election ballot styles they use, which saved $160,000 in one county alone.

--Introducing more self-service kiosks and surpassing 34,000 transactions in March--the highest monthly total in the six-year history of the program.

--Putting plans in place to utilize new technologies, including social media, to connect with branch employees, customers and the public for their input.

--Launching an advisory council with physicians, lawmakers, Gift of Life Michigan, and Michigan Eye-Bank representatives to come up with innovative, cost-effective ways to improve organ donor registration participation. Many of their suggestions have been implemented.

--Establishing a new branch policy that would require employees, time permitting to ask customers if they are interested in joining the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.

--Developing a pilot project with libraries to promote online services for those Michigan families without a home computer Internet service.

--Launching a new driver's license to improve security and reduce fraud.

--Issuing a new administrative ruling that will make it easier for city and township clerks to send secure ballots to men and women serving their country overseas.

"We've accomplished a lot, but we have an ambitious agenda," said Johnson.

"We are determined to do better. We'll report back next year so Michigan residents can gauge our progress in providing the best possible service at the lowest possible cost while safeguarding election integrity and promoting transparency. We owe them that. These are their tax dollars at work. This is their government."

For additional information about the programs and initiatives of the Secretary of State's Office, visit its website, Sign up for the official Twitter feed at and Facebook updates,

Published: Thu, Apr 21, 2011