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REAL ID could be a really big problem for Minnesotans who wait too long

Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington and Director of the Driver and Vehicle Services Division Emma Corrie
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington and Director of the Driver and Vehicle Services Division Emma Corrie speaking to the Driver and Vehicle Systems Oversight Committee on Friday.

If Minnesota state legislators were looking for reassurance that the state will be compliant with stricter drivers license requirements in time for an Oct. 1 federal deadline, they didn’t get it.

Instead, a joint House and Senate committee was told Friday there is little chance the state will be able to issue REAL ID licenses and identification cards to all who want them in time for the deadline.

“I don’t want to see the faces of crying children who can’t get on an airplane because mom and dad waited too long to get their REAL ID,” John Harrington, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, told the Driver and Vehicle Systems Oversight Committee Friday. 

The worst-case scenario is that any Minnesotans without REAL ID come October — or without a passport or a REAL ID-compliant Enhanced Drivers License — will be denied permission to board commercial flights in any U.S. airport.


And while Oct. 1 is the federal deadline, the state is facing such a backlog in processing the applications that the real deadline in Minnesota could be more like July 1 or even June 1. Indeed, an application that doesn’t come in with all of the needed documents by then likely won’t be processed and mailed in time for a resident to receive their REAL ID by Oct. 1.

A big backlog … that’s getting bigger

The new licenses have been available since Oct. 1, 2018 but only 12.6 percent of residents have one, Harrington said. That is 333,184 of the 4.12 million driver’s licenses issued by the state. Another 260,000 have Enhanced Drivers Licenses. Add in the estimated 37.5 percent who have valid passports and just half of Minnesotans currently possess identification that would let them board a commercial jetliner.

Harrington told the committee that the Driver and Vehicle Services division he oversees is getting 19,000 applications a week,  just over half of which are for REAL ID-compliant licenses. At that pace, the state will not be able to issue new licenses to all who might need or want one.

“We have 33 weeks between now and when REAL ID comes into force,” Harrington said. “We are processing an enormous number of applications even as we speak. But we need to double or triple that volume if we are to make our deadline.”

The new licenses have been available since Oct. 1, 2018 but only 12.6 percent of residents have one, Commissioner Harrington said.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The new licenses have been available since Oct. 1, 2018 but only 12.6 percent of residents have one, Commissioner Harrington said.
Emma Corrie, the director of the state Driver and Vehicle Services division, said she feels confident that by Oct. 1, everyone in the state will at least know about the REAL ID requirement and know how to get new licenses. She was less confident that all who want or need one will have one by then. 

The summer months are already the division’s busiest for driver road tests, and the department is also facing a November deadline for having the state’s new Vehicle Title and Registration System — a replacement for the troubled MNLARS system — up and running.

Corrie urged residents to pre-apply online and to read and understand the documents that are needed. Offices like those in Hennepin County with the equipment to scan documents can also reduce the wait times. She said her staff will do what it can to make application and qualification easier, but they must comply with state and federal requirements.

Still, the volume of applications currently in the system and anticipated to come in over the next several months has created a backlog. The current wait is 46 days to get a REAL ID,  she said, 56 days for an Enhanced ID and 33 days for a standard ID. 


“The good news is our communications are working. The not so good news is our communications are working,” Corrie said. “People are coming in and those numbers will continue to increase.” 

There are now 63,000 people who have completed applications and are awaiting processing of those applications, and Corrie thinks the backlog will reach 90 days or even 120 days.

“If you are not in with your paperwork by June first, I cannot guarantee you,” she said. 

Rep. Frank Hornstein, a member of the joint committee and the chair of the House Transportation Committee, said he is willing to make legal changes to ease the process. But the department will need to work quickly to get legislation ready so that it can be drafted, heard and approved in the coming weeks.

Lots of documents 

The regular license that most drivers now have will still be valid for driving and for other identification needs. And that might be enough for residents who either don’t fly, don’t enter federal facilities, or who have a passport.

The rest will need a new license. And to get one, they will need to bring a set of documents — a birth certificate, passport, permanent resident card or certificate of citizenship to prove their identity, birthdate and legal U.S. presence — to a DVS office. They will be scanned or copied and returned to the applicant at the DVS or registrars office.

Real ID
Dept. of Public Safety
Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, every air traveler 18 years of age or older will need a REAL ID, enhanced driver’s license or ID, passport or passport card or another acceptable form of ID to fly within the United States or enter federal facilities.
Applicants also must have something to prove their Social Security number, either a Social Security card or a W-2 form. Finally, they need two documents to prove their current state residency. Those documents could be a current driver’s license, an income tax return, a recent utility bill or a credit card statement.

But even then, not every version of these documents will be accepted. A Social Security card that is laminated is considered altered and won’t work. Those souvenir birth certificates that hospitals sometimes give new parents also won’t work. 


The requirements for Enhanced driver’s licenses under state law are even more stringent. Enhanced licenses are good for those driving into Canada or Mexico and are also REAL ID compliant. But Harrington said most residents won’t need them.

Corrie and Harrington suggested that state legislators who want to help might consider a quick change to state law to broaden the number and types of documents that can be used to get REAL ID.

Could the feds move the deadline (again)? 

Could the deadline move again, as it has repeatedly since the federal law was passed? 

Harrington said there are conversations happening at the federal level as to whether this deadline is “cast in stone.”

“As I sit here with you today, it is,” he said. “There is no wiggle room, there’s no plus-or-minus a few days. By Oct. 1, to get their citizens on an airplane, they must have REAL ID-compliant identification cards.”

REAL ID was one of the recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, otherwise known as the 9/11 Commission . Congress voted in 2005 to require all states to have minimum standards for driver’s licenses to assure that people are who they say they are. 

The deadline was pushed back repeatedly as some states, Minnesota included, raised concerns about privacy and the security of documents residents were required to hand over to get the IDs. There were also issues around how non-citizens would be treated under the requirement.

Minnesota passed its REAL ID law in 2017, making it the last state to come into compliance with the federal requirement.

Correction: This story was changed to correct a statement that some documents might be retained by the DVS or registrar. In all cases, identifying documents are returned to the applicant after begin scanned or copied.

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Andy Briebart on 02/14/2020 - 02:50 pm.

    I have a passport and a current license, no hurry. No big deal.

  2. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 02/14/2020 - 03:47 pm.

    Another fine mess brought to you by Minnesota Republicans. Why did they drag they’re feet on this? I don’t think I ever heard their reasoning.

    • Submitted by Mike Lhotka on 02/14/2020 - 06:24 pm.

      I thought they were worried about big government collection of data which isn’t an issue now that they have control of the federal government

  3. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 02/15/2020 - 06:38 am.

    Getting people to apply earlier won’t fix the problem. It will just make the backlog longer. The ONLY solutions is to either hire more people to process the applications or change the laws so that the process isn’t as cumbersome for the applicants, as well as the DMV folks.

    Why can’t all of these documents be checked and verified at the DMV while you are in line applying, and get your license issued on the spot if everything is OK?

    Or how about forcing all of our legislators to work one day a week at the DMV without pay to help process the backlog? They would come up with a solution to the problem really quickly.

    • Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 02/15/2020 - 09:06 am.

      Putting legislators to work there, in schools, in packing plants and fast food, farm field work, etc. might address a lot of problems.

      But I think it’s only fair to pay them the market rate, and have them live on the pay until they come up with a solution.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 02/15/2020 - 09:54 am.

      When I went they did check at the first point of contact. In all fairness, it sounds like people are not reading the instructions carefully. Maybe more people processing the needed documents like the birth certificates with a seal might be helpful.

    • Submitted by Cheryl Salo on 02/15/2020 - 10:26 am.

      Mike, Please No! You let our legislators loose at the DMV and we’ll have a bigger mess and they still won’t get the problem solved once they go back to their desks.

  4. Submitted by Linda Hancher on 02/15/2020 - 01:24 pm.

    I got an enhanced driver’s license 5 years ago, so when I went back to renew it all I needed was something with my current (same) address on it. Don’t know when I will get my actual new license, though. It has only been 3 weeks.

  5. Submitted by Jim Marshal on 02/15/2020 - 02:16 pm.

    “Congress voted in 2005 to require all states to have minimum standards for driver’s licenses to assure that people are who they say they are.”………………..Were there a lot of people with driver’s licenses who were not who they said they were prior to 2005?

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/15/2020 - 03:45 pm.

      No,there wasn’t any problem with people saying they were someone they weren’t. This is a Republican imposition of a national ID card, just beause they can.

      When I applied for the enhanced driver’s license (which I thought was a Read ID; that’s what the application for said, anyway), I had all the documents with me. But the utility bill I brought–along with birth certificate, Social Security statement for 2019, driver’s license, all of which had my full name on them–only had my first and second initials in front of my last name. The woman at the Anoka branch of the DMV warned me that the bureaucrats in St. Paul would probably reject my application because of that lack of “Constance Ann” on the city’s water bill to my home address.

      They scanned all my documents in that branch office. I’m waiting (it’s been a month now). No wonder they’re behind and have applications stacked up.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/16/2020 - 08:16 am.

        If this is the case, that a minor thing like the lack of a middle name on one of the supporting documents will result in the rejection of an application, then the onus for that is on DVS. I just went on line to begin the application process, and if warnings about that are on the web site, they are not easy to find. Neither did the e-mail confirmation mention it.

        It’s important to remember this in light of the continued GOP push to pass a voter suppression law, when they tell us “It’s so easy to get an ID.”

        Last, there is no DMV in Minnesota. For some reason, the PiPress continues to perpetuate this myth in it’s headlines. Not MinnPost though.

  6. Submitted by Linda Maki on 02/15/2020 - 03:38 pm.

    Why are we even discussing licenses? Aren’t liberals the ones who think that anyone can cross our border and have access to our programs including healthcare without an ID? Don’t they believe in Drivers licenses for those who are illegal? Aren’t they opposed to Voter ID? But— now they want Real ID when they say that Voter ID is too restrictive and “racist”? Isn’t this racist, then?

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 02/17/2020 - 09:47 am.

      You ask “Why are we discussing licenses”: Because Congress mandated that they be more secure. Republicans in Minnesota put it off for years and years and now we all suffer.

      ” Aren’t liberals the ones who think that anyone can cross our border and have access to our programs including healthcare without an ID?”: No, liberals don’t think that, we do think people with health issues should be treated regardless of where they are from. Jesus thought so too.

      “Aren’t they opposed to Voter ID?”: Yes, you have to prove your identity when you register to vote, we think that’s enough.

      “But— now they want Real ID when they say that Voter ID is too restrictive and “racist”? Isn’t this racist, then?”: You are confuse, Republicans, some conservative (not liberal) Democrats and the Department of Homeland Security are behind Real ID. So given the folks backing it, it could be racist.

  7. Submitted by Rosalie O'Brien on 02/15/2020 - 03:52 pm.

    I think there’s room for improvement in the management of the process. I’m sure it’s true that too many people don’t make the effort to read the requirements carefully and assemble their documents ahead of time. But in my case, even having done that and gotten confirmation at the first office I visited that my documentation was complete, I ended up making multiple trips to two different licensing offices. Why? Because the first time I went on a Saturday, not realizing (duh!) that it is the busiest day, and was 40th in line; I was advised to come back early in the morning on a weekday to shorten the wait. When I came back on Monday, the federal background check system was down and no one could predict when it would become available. I waited awhile, then left, armed with a telephone number to check whether the system was up, but calling it proved to be frustrating because of the number of repetitions of a recorded message. I learned that some offices had ended up closing that afternoon when the federal system was still unavailable. Trying a different office the next day, I misunderstood the opening time and arrived an hour before it opened. You’d better believe I waited, and I now have my confirmation of renewal but have still not received the new license. I was told that the federal system often goes down for varying lengths of time, but still it seems to me that it would be helpful if the offices promulgated the best times to visit, to smooth out the flow of business.

  8. Submitted by Thom Roethke on 02/18/2020 - 09:32 am.

    They want to implement a de facto internal passport system, I’ll just use my passport. No reason to sugercoat it with a fancy card that theoretically exists to confirm my ability to drive.

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