Pace of REAL ID applications has some warning of ‘mad rush'

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Minnesotans have been able to get two forms of enhanced drivers licenses for the past nine months, but the overwhelming majority still carry standard licenses that don’t conform to new federal requirements, state data indicate.

The slow pace of applications has some warning of long lines and frustrations for drivers come next summer and fall. Without one of the new licenses or a valid passport, Minnesotans won’t be able to fly domestically or access federal facilities come October 2020.

Of the 4.6 million drivers licenses in Minnesota, standard licenses account for 4.3 million, or 94 percent, according to Department of Public Safety data requested by FOX 9. The remainder of drivers have been issued an enhanced license or REAL ID.

“If it stays at this pace, I see a mad rush coming in August, September, and definitely October (2020),” said Gaye Smith, a deputy registrar at Quick-Serv License Center in South St. Paul.

Minnesota officials battled for years over how to implement REAL ID, finally rolling out the program in October 2018. That gave Minnesotans two years to apply and receive the more secure licenses.

Enhanced drivers licenses, which also allow entry into Canada and Mexico without a passport, have been available for longer.

Through July 8, the state has issued 151,987 enhanced drivers licenses. Slightly fewer people, 123,289, have received REAL IDs, according to the data.

While many Minnesotans – including those who do not travel by airplane, don’t need to access federal facilities, or who already have a valid passport – won’t need a new ID, Gov. Tim Walz said others are likely putting it off.

“We have the capacity to (process applications),” Walz said. “It’s not a problem now of technology not getting it done, it’s folks coming in. I think there’s things that we can do. I’ll continue to talk about the need to do it.”

Part of the problem is confusion over what documents are required, Smith said.

For a REAL ID, Minnesotans must prove their identity, date of birth, Social Security number, and in-state residency. Additional documentation is required for an enhanced drivers license.

Smith said her office turns away three to five people per day who don’t have the required documentation, leading to frustration. She encouraged people to fill out a pre-application online, and she’s set up two computers in her license center specifically for that purpose.

Monday, a woman named Carla walked into the South St. Paul license center with a packet of identifying documents, leaving nothing to chance. It was her second visit to the office.

“I thought I had everything, but I had to go home again to get more stuff,” said Carla, who didn’t want to give her last name but said she got an enhanced drivers license for an upcoming trip to Canada. “If you have all your documents, it’s painless. 

“But you do need to read the fine print about what you need to bring.”

About 42 percent of Americans have valid passports and therefore will not need one of the new drivers licenses, according to data on the U.S. State Department website. That data does not break out how many Minnesotans hold passports.

The state began issuing REAL IDs slowly last fall before peaking at 26,082 licenses in March. The pace has slowed since then, with 17,488 REAL IDs being issued in June, the state’s data indicate.