Column: The real headaches of getting a ‘Real ID’

  • Margaret Drye. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

For the Valley News
Published: 8/2/2019 10:00:27 PM
Modified: 8/2/2019 10:00:12 PM

Every few licensing cycles, I get a driver’s license photo that I actually like. That happened last time and, as renewal time rolled around again, I was reluctant to give up that photo. Then I remembered that, in New Hampshire, you can renew your license online — with the added bonus that they re-use your picture.

Getting a license renewed has gotten harder and harder around here as my “local” Department of Motor Vehicles office has moved from Mechanic Street in Lebanon to the Miracle Mile in Lebanon to Claremont and then to Newport.

So renewing online was a reasonable course to pursue. However, even though it is possible, apparently it isn’t universally possible. You can renew online only if your renewal letter contains a Renewal Identification Number, which is issued randomly. Mine didn’t.

The DMV customer service person I was talking to suggested that, since I had to go renew in person, I should apply to get a “Real ID,” a driver’s license that would comply with the new federal requirements established by the Real ID Act of 2005. (After Oct. 1, 2020, any license that is not Real ID compliant cannot be used for domestic air travel or access to federal facilities, such as courtrooms or military bases.)

Later that night, I looked at the requirements to get that federally compliant card and realized there was no way I could gather all the necessary information by the next morning. Looking further, I realized that the reason for that was because I am a married woman.

To get a Real ID, you need to bring one proof of identity, one proof of Social Security number, and two items to show proof of residency, which seems easy enough but can potentially involve a lot of work.

To prove identity, you can bring your birth certificate or a valid passport. If you don’t have a passport and use a birth certificate, your names need to match on all the pieces of information. If your name changed because of marriage, you need a copy of your marriage license.

In fact, according to the DMV, you need a paper trail of “every marriage/divorce name change — even multiple marriages” that gets you from your current name back to the name on your birth certificate. Women are usually the ones who are changing their names, and most of the stories of problems with this process focus on this particular onus.

If you don’t have an official copy of any of those documents, birth certificates are on file at the clerk’s office in the county where a person was born; marriage licenses are on file in the county where the person lived, regardless of where the wedding took place; and divorce and death certificates are available from the vital records office in the state where the event occurred. Getting new, official copies of any of these costs time and money.

To prove a Social Security number, you need either a Social Security card or a pay stub, W-2 or 1099 form with your full Social Security number on it. It doesn’t cost anything to get a new card under a new name, but you have to apply in person and then wait for a new card to be mailed to you. Again, it is usually women who have to change cards. As for the pay stub and W-2 alternatives, what do homemakers do? During 30 years of home schooling nine kids I got a lot of benefits, but a salary that required a W-2 was not one of them.

To prove residency, you need two items from a list that includes a valid current New Hampshire license or specific documents that would come from a town office, like a New Hampshire vehicle registration or a property tax bill. Some of the other options must be dated within the last 60 days, like any utility bill or mortgage statement at the property.

Not every vehicle is necessarily registered to a couple. What happens when two people get married but the utilities and mortgage are already in one person’s name only? It is my understanding that a name can’t be added to a mortgage unless that person is a co-signer of the loan. And while another person can be added to a utility bill by undergoing a credit check and agreeing to the terms and conditions (free but time-consuming), a bill is usually addressed to one person only. Again, women are usually the ones who need to be added to most of these options.

What if you don’t get a Real ID by 2020? You’ll need a passport or another form of federally compliant identification (there’s a long list) in order to board a domestic flight or enter a secure federal facility.

My passport has gotten me into Ireland and Canada in the last year. In order to get a passport, you have to submit your birth certificate or other documents to establish citizenship and your Social Security number, which will be checked in a number of ways once provided.

This brings up the obvious question: If a passport will work in lieu of a Real ID after Oct 1, 2020, and a valid New Hampshire driver’s license is all that is needed to renew a license regularly, why isn’t a passport plus the license up for renewal sufficient for a Real ID? That doesn’t cover all cases, of course, but it might work to ease the burden of proof put on women and still meet the minimum requirements for identification.

After researching Real ID and reading about some of the hurdles women have had to go through to be licensed, I have a few thoughts:

If you want to get a Real ID and don’t have a passport, use the opportunity to get a passport as well. You’ll basically need to provide the same information, proven in the same ways. In Vermont and New Hampshire, it’s nice to have a passport handy in order to visit our nearby neighbor of Canada.

If you are a woman who wants to get a Real ID, make sure you allow time to get all your ducks in order, because you may have a lot of ducks. Even if you have all the required documents, you may not have them all in one place.

Given time, I can probably cobble together an appropriate set of documents, but I haven’t decided yet if or when I will upgrade to a Real ID. I already have a passport, rarely fly and don’t find myself regularly on military bases or in courtrooms. There is no extra DMV cost for Real ID when renewing a license, but if you opt in before your scheduled renewal (before or after Oct. 1, 2020), there is a $3 replacement fee.

By the way, according to the New Hampshire DMV website, if I get a Real ID, subsequent renewals “may be done online.”

Ha-ha. I’m not holding my breath.

Margaret Drye lives in Plainfield. She can be reached at mmdrye@comcast.net.




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