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REAL IDs are causing the state's DMV lines to be twice as long, but what are they?

Courtesy of N.C. Department of Transportation
Courtesy of N.C. Department of Transportation

More North Carolinians have been pouring into the Department of Motor Vehicles in recent months to get REAL IDs. But what are "REAL IDs"?

This form of identification meets the minimum security standards for license issuance and production. The Transportation Security Administration will begin enforcing REAL ID requirements Oct. 1, 2020. Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 following a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission. The law requires residents from every state and territory to update their state identification cards to a compliant REAL ID in order to enter a federal facility that requires identification or to travel on a commercial airline. 

For flights, there are several alternatives to REAL ID, such as passports, but a driver's license that does not meet the new federal standards will not be accepted. 

North Carolina is currently issuing REAL IDs at DMV offices. However, there are still millions of people that need to switch—the DMV estimates that about 4 million North Carolina residents will get one.

N.C. DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup said that as the deadline to acquire a REAL ID approaches, the need to switch for REAL IDs has increased significantly. The wait time at driver's license offices statewide in July was about twice as long as the average wait time for 2017, largely due to the requirement for REAL IDs.

When the REAL ID Act was passed in 2005, the initial plan was to have implementation fully completed around 2008. However, several challenges, both logistical and political, have resulted in the postpone of the deadline, which is now set to be in 2020. 

In order to get a REAL ID, one must bring three documents: a birth certificate, a proof of a social security and two documents which show residency in the state. In addition to these requirements, the DMV of each state is required to scan and keep copies of the documents. 

Figuring out how and where to store these documents has been a setback for many states, including North Carolina. 

There was also initial pushback from a number of states that were planning to refuse to implement it, including Maine

The Maine state legislature passed a resolution in 2007 urging that the federal government repeal this act. The state legislators were concerned with the sheer cost of the REAL ID—estimated in Maine to be around $185 million over five years, the potential variability in how the law could be enforced by the federal government and the increased possibility of identity theft. 

Maine remained noncompliant with no firm plans to implement the REAL ID until 2017, when the Federal government refused to renew Maine’s waiver to the act. Maine later passed a bill to comply and began implementation of this new ID. Eventually all states either complied with the federal law or were given an extension.

According to the recently passed North Carolina Voter ID Amendment, voters will need a photo ID to vote in person. However, no REAL ID is required. 

The increasing demand for REAL IDs could potentially make people less willing to get a new photo ID only to vote, said David Schanzer, professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy and director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. 

"The long lines from the REAL ID requirement coming up in the next few years... [may] dissuade people from getting IDs to vote," he explained.  

On a more personal note, Schanzer talked about how this summer, in order to get a REAL ID–compliant license, he had to wait over two and a half hours, even when getting there before 6 a.m. 


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