RealID extension

Washington will push back the Oct. 1, 2020, deadline for enforcement of REAL ID due to coronavirus concerns. Photo from N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles

RALEIGH — Last week, the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles was hustling to process applications for the federal government’s REAL ID program. But President Donald Trump has given NCDMV, and its counterparts across the nation, a welcome reprieve.

Trump announced March 23 that Washington will push back the Oct. 1 deadline for enforcement of REAL ID due to coronavirus concerns.

“At a time when we’re asking Americans to maintain social distancing, we do not want to require people to go with their local DMV,” Trump said at a White House briefing, adding that the new deadline would be announced “very soon.”

The deadline extension means there’s no great rush for North Carolinians to obtain IDs, DMV spokesman Steve Abbott said. Anyone who already owns a REAL ID in the form of a passport or military ID doesn’t need a new driver’s license, although some people may want to get one so they don’t have to carry a passport on domestic flights.

The REAL ID Act was passed in 2005 to create a federal identification standard in response to the 9/11 terror attacks. Several states objected to the law when it was first passed, and the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly extended the deadline over the years.

When the REAL ID mandate takes effect, Americans must show a REAL ID card to board domestic flights, enter federal buildings, or enter a nuclear power plant. Forms of Real ID include passports and military ID. They also include state-issued driver’s licenses featuring a yellow star in the top right corner.

NCDMV has issued 1.8 million REAL IDs since late 2017 and would have needed to issue another 1.8 million to 2.4 million within seven months, per the department’s most recent estimate, Abbott said.

Recently, COVID-19 rules closed 60 driver’s license offices, including small offices with minimal seating, as the agency determined it couldn’t carry out social distance parameters. IDs issued dropped from 10,000 or 11,000 per day to 4,000 or 5,000, Abbott said.

For offices that remained open, the DMV required applicants to make appointments, rather than walking in, due to health concerns. Appointments often are booked three to four weeks out.

Trump’s announcement arrived after a request from governors across the country. In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, the National Governors Association urged an extension of the REAL ID program for “no less than one year.”

DHS tried to help expedite REAL IDs in February by letting DMVs receive electronically the necessary documents, including the applicant’s birth certificate and Social Security card. NCDMV officials decided an electronic system wasn’t worth it. The federal government still requires applicants to visit the DMV in person with the required documents. DMV officials may save a few minutes scanning the documents themselves, but they’d still have to verify the applicant’s physical documents with the ones sent electronically.

A better way to expedite the system, Abbott said, would be letting the DMV accept an applicant’s passport or other REAL ID card number as proof that they’ve already provided the necessary papers.