Real ID turns into quest of paperwork

Minnesotans could find themselves unable to use their driver's licenses to board domestic flights later this year. Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

Minnesotans could find themselves unable to use their driver’s licenses to board domestic flights later this year. Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

A potential change in identification requirements from the federal government has Minnesotans wondering if they’ll get stopped by a bureaucratic roadblock with the most common form of picture ID — a Minnesota driver’s license. The state does have an alternative, but that may not be so easy to obtain for some.

After the 2001 terror attacks, the 9/11 commission called for stricter identification standards across the country, and the feds later told states to comply. Minnesota lawmakers decided not to in 2009.

But since 2014, the state has given residents the option to voluntarily comply with the new federal Real ID requirements, with what the state calls an enhanced driver’s license, or EDL. And it offers some idea of what’s to come for Minnesotans if the feds crack down on the current state IDs.

State officials said there are only about 13,900 Minnesotans with enhanced drivers licenses right now, although applications have picked up sharply in recent weeks. Officials declined interview requests, but answered questions via email.

It’s not an easy process to obtain an EDL, according to Carol Schaubach. She’s retired and lives in Andover, but travels occasionally to see her son and his family in Oregon. She worried that her regular Minnesota license might not be enough to get her on a plane, as federal officials have been suggesting.

Schaubach needed a lot of documents to apply for an enhanced drivers license.

“I needed to have my certified birth certificate, my original Social Security card, and then I needed two pieces for my name change, one a certified marriage certificate, and then another name change court document. And then, to verify my address, I needed to bring in either my bank statement or a utility bill,” she said.

Schaubach also had to present her regular Minnesota driver’s license.

And there’s more: The state takes EDL applications only in person and only at 14 locations, 10 of which are outside the Twin Cities area.

Schaubach said she waited about 45 minutes to present her documents, and fill out a questionnaire and pay about $30 at the Driver and Vehicle Services office in Anoka.

But that’s not the end of the story, either.

While the enhanced licenses are high tech — they carry an electronic radio frequency identification chip — the application process in Minnesota is decidedly analog. State clerks make photocopies of documents to include with the application.

That gives Schaubach pause.

“I’m concerned that having so much sensitive paperwork around, it could be subject to either being lost or stolen or possibly viewed by a dishonest person,” Schaubach said.

State officials said they have secure storage for the applications in St. Paul.

Minnesota issues about 1.7 million drivers licenses a year, and a change in requirements at the federal level could touch off long waits if new IDs are required in a short period of time.

And the Real ID licenses, if the state does convert to the new standard, would need the same kind of documentation and processing as EDLs.

The Department of Public Safety won’t say whether they’re prepared to handle all that paperwork, or even if they expect it.

There hasn’t been a rush in Wisconsin, according to state officials. Wisconsin has offered an optional Real ID-compliant license — at no extra charge — since 2013.

“About 21 percent of the driver licenses and ID cards that we issue are Real ID compliant, so the adoption rate is not huge right now,” said Kristina Boardman, deputy administrator for the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles. “I expect that will probably change as we have more information regarding how the feds are going to be enforcing that with the boarding of commercial aircraft.”


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