BELDING, Mich. — It's a combination of closures due to COVID and the office's new appointment-based approach.
More and more people are reaching out to FOX 17 about how to navigate the backlogged Secretary of State (SOS) system, especially ahead of Memorial Day, and the late fees associated with those whose registrations have expired.
"Just about a week or so ago, I saw two cars in the same day without license plate and no registration paper at all in the back window," said Bob McNally, who reached out to FOX 17 last week about the number of people driving around West Michigan without license plates.
He drives about 500 miles a week for work; he said lately it's become a problem.
"I was in Benton Harbor the other day, two days ago, car went by, no license plate at all," McNally said.
Our story had many viewers reaching out to FOX 17, including one man in Sparta who is trying to transfer titles and obtain new plates for his newly purchased boat so he can put it in the water on Memorial Day.
He says the first appointment won't be until August.
"Well, I haven't heard anything positive about it, sounds like it's kind of a complete disaster," said Rep. Patrick Outman (R–70th District) when asked by FOX 17 about viewers experiencing these issues. "Just the amount of wait times it takes to get into an appointment is the real issue."
Representative Outman is the Vice Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who says he's heard nothing good about the new appointment-based model.
"I have folks that are four or five months out from an appointment," Representative Outman said. "And you know, a lot of these services you can't do online; you have to go there in person. So it's...it's been a real challenge."
FOX 17 reached out to the Secretary of State's office for answers on how to best navigate the backlogged system.
Boat license renewals can actually be done online, or at the hundreds of self-service stations across the state.
SOS says it releases 15,000 appointments online every day at 8 a.m. and 12 p.m., about half of which are next-day appointments. That means every branch office in the state has next-day appointments available.
For those without internet, you can call 888-SOS-MICH and press 2 to speak with someone who can get you an appointment.
Another concern from our viewers is the late fees people are being charged due to late appointments.
"Everybody that's going to the Secretary of State's right now to get their plates and everything because they've been delayed and they had to wait two months to get them is getting charged a $15 late fee. If that's gone across the board statewide, you realize how many millions of dollars that is that people are being charged on a fee, because the Secretary of State's was closed," said Forrest Hulliberger, a viewer who voicemailed FOX 17 and gave us permission to use his voicemail on air.
The SOS says the late fees are mandated by law, so unless the legislature acts to change them, they are obligated to charge them.
"I find that very disturbing that people are being punished at no fault of their own," Representative Outman said. "I think they need to do a couple of things. One, they need to waive the fines and the late fees, but also they need to expand their their in-person services."
We're told on average, it can take a couple of tries to get a next-day appointment.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is expected to testify on this appointment-based model this Thursday in front of the house oversight committee.
We'll provide updates on that meeting as we get them.