Thursday, November 3, 2011

War On Terror "Real I.D." Driver's License Federal Law Meets State Voter Photo I.D.

You probably heard about 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper who couldn't get a free voter photo ID card at a Tennessee Driver Service Center in October. Tennessee has a voter photo ID law nearly identical to Texas' new ID law. Cooper never had a driver's license so she had to get a "free" voter photo ID card to vote in future elections. Even though she had a birth certificate and other ID the Driver Service Center wouldn't issue an ID card because she didn't have her marriage certificate.

Perhaps you've heard about a 93-year-old Tennessee woman, Thelma Mitchell, who cleaned the state Capitol for 30 years, including the governor’s office and who won’t be able to vote for the first time in decades because she also couldn't get a "free" voter photo ID card at a Tennessee Driver Service Center. Ms. Mitchell was even accused of being an undocumented immigrant because she couldn’t produce a birth certificate:
Mitchell, who was delivered by a midwife in Alabama in 1918, has never had a birth certificate. But when she told that to a drivers’ license clerk, he suggested she might be an illegal immigrant.
Maybe you've heard about a 84-year-old Brokaw, Wisconsin woman, Ruthelle Frank, who won’t be able to vote for the first time in decades because she also couldn't get a "free" voter photo ID card at a Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles. Born after a difficult birth at her home in 1927, Frank never received an official birth certificate. Without her birth certificate, she can’t secure the state ID card that the new voter photo law requires. The state Register of Deeds in Madison has a record of her birth, but the attending physician at Frank’s birth misspelled her maiden name, so the name on her state recorded birth record does not match the name given on Frank's other identity documents.

The Tennessee and Wisconsin Departments of Motor Vehicles were following requirements of the federal Real ID Act of 2005, which is mandated to take effect in all 50 states by January 2013. After January 2013 even young women across the U.S., who already have a driver's license, may face the same ID road block as 96 year old Dorothy Cooper.

After the commercial airliner attacks of September 11, 2001 the federal government implemented a "war on terror" photo driver's license "Real ID" law, with regulatory oversight given to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Federal Real ID law mandates state driver's license and personal ID card issuance regulations that require U.S. citizens to present a state certified birth certificate and other identifying documents in order to obtain or renew their license or ID card after January 2013.

The Federal Real ID law has transformed state issued driver's licenses into a de facto national photo identity card that is required to board commercially operated airline flights, conduct official business with federal agencies, apply for Social Security, and increasingly, to vote.

The Real ID driver's license law was enacted in 2005, when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, as a response to the fact that several of the 19 foreign hijackers on 9/11 had obtained state driver’s licenses. Many states are now applying the federally mandated anti-terror photo "Real ID" law to voters by enacting voter photo ID laws.

Last May Governor Rick Perry (R) signed SB14 into law requiring voters to present a limited selection of unexpired government issued photo identification to qualify to vote in Texas elections. The most widely held photo ID on that short list of voter photo identification documents is the Texas driver's license.

The Texas Secretary of State (SOS) reports that 605,576 registered Texas voters do not appear to have a Texas driver’s license or personal ID card. The SOS report reveals that in 27 of Texas' 254 counties, at least 10 percent of the registered voters might be unable to cast ballots. In Presidio County in Southwest Texas as many as 25.9% of registered voters might not have the required photo ID, which will block as many as 1,313 out of the 5,066 registered voters in that county from casting ballots in any election.

New photo ID laws for voting will be in effect for the first time for the 2012 election in five states -- Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin. Those five states have a combined citizen voting age population of just under 29 million. The Brennan Center for Justice issued a report estimating that the newly enacted Real ID voting laws in those five states "could make it significantly harder for 3.2 million (11 percent) of those potential voters who do not already have government issued photo ID. With 18.8 million voting age citizens in Texas, as counted by the 2010 U.S. census, as many as 2.1 million (11 percent) voting age citizens in Texas do not hold a Texas driver’s license, personal ID card or other government issued photo ID document.

Even Texas voters who already hold a Texas driver's license may find it challenging to renew their driver's license when the federal "Real ID" law takes effect on January 15, 2013.

What is the federally mandated anti-terror photo "Real ID" law?

State driver's licenses had become a de facto standard form of identification throughout the U.S., but prior to September 11, 2001, each state set its own criteria regarding the issuance of driver's licenses. Many states did not require people to prove citizenship status or show "proof-positive" government issued identity documents, such as a state certified birth certificate, to obtain a driver's license. Passing a driving test was the primary requirement for obtaining a first time or renewed driver's license in most states.

On October 8, 2001, President Bush established the Office of Homeland Security within the White House, and its first responsibility was to produce the first National Strategy for Homeland Security, which was released in July 2002. Recognizing the role of states in homeland security, the report outlined major state initiatives, including the issuance of driver’s licenses. In particular the report states:
“While the issuance of driver’s licenses falls squarely with the powers of the states, the federal government can assist the states in crafting solutions to curtail the future abuse of driver’s licenses by terrorist organizations.”
On May 11, 2005, President Bush signed into law the Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005,” which included the “Real ID Act of 2005.”

The Real ID Act mandates that all fifty states must follow specific security, authentication, and issuance regulations, administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in issuing driver's license and personal identification cards. On March 4, 2011, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano extended by 20 months (to January 15, 2013) the May 10, 2011 deadline for states to be in full compliance with the federal Real ID regulations. Texas already substantially complies with the Real ID regulations for obtaining or renewing driver's licenses and personal identification cards.

Once the January 15, 2013 deadline has passed, applicants for first time or renewed driver's licenses, personal identification cards, or election identification certificates will need to prove five items of fact to their state driver's license office: full legal name, birth date, citizenship or immigration status, social security number, and proof of permanent residence address.

Title II of the Real ID law requires that first time and renewing driver's license, ID card, and "free" election ID card applicants must appear in person at their state's DMV and prove five items of fact by presenting:
  • State certified original or copy of a birth certificate (not just a hospital issued birth record), or
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or
  • Certificate of Naturalization issued by DHS, or
  • Certificate of Citizenship
  • Social Security Card or other proof of social security number and
  • Two documents that show a principal residence address, such as a bank statement and a utility bill.
For cases where the current name and the name on the primary identity document(s) are different, first time and renewing applicants must also present:
  • Court ordered name change document, and/or
  • Certified original or copy of all marriage certificates, issued by the courts, and/or
  • Certified original or copy of all divorce decrees, issued by the courts.
In all cases, ID applicants must show a clear trail of name changes originating with the birth name to the current name. This requirement places a disproportionate burden on women who commonly take the last name of their husbands at the time of their marriage, and therefore must show their certified marriage certificate along with the other required ID. Women who have been married more than once must produce all marriage certificates and all divorce decrees.

To obtain a state certified copy of a birth certificate most state vital records departments require the person requesting their birth certificate to show identification like a driver's license or personal ID card. The catch-22 of this is that people who do not hold a driver's license or personal ID card can't obtain a copy of their state certified birth certificate -- so they can't obtain a driver's license, personal ID card or election identification certificate.
Twenty-four states have expressed opposition to implementing all provisions of the Real ID mandate, but most states now follow Real ID Title II document requirements for issuing new and renewed driver's licenses and personal ID cards. In states, like Texas, that have passed voter photo ID laws, the same Real ID proof of identity documents are required to obtain a free voter photo ID card for would be voters who don't have any other government issued photo ID. It is these people who are most likely to caught in the catch-22 situation of not having the ID required to get the ID they need -- to vote.

According to a study conducted by National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the Real ID Act will cost states more than $11 billion to implement and will have a major impact on services to the public.

All 245 million driver's license and identification card holders in the U.S. will be required to make an in-person visit to their state driver's license office in order to obtain a Real-ID compliant license after January 2013. People who have never had, or needed, a driver's license or ID card will also have to make an in-person visit to their state driver's license office, if they want to vote or even to request Social Security benefits.

Going to the state driver's license station has never been a walk in the park, but it’s likely to get even more difficult under the stringent federal identification rules required by the 2005 Real ID Act. 245 million Americans will have to dig out documents such as Social Security cards and certified birth certificates to obtain or renew their driver’s licenses. People who do not already have a certified birth certificate issued from their birth state's vital records agency will have go to the trouble and expense of getting a certified copy of their birth certificate. According to a Brennan Center for Justice study as many as 7% of United States citizens – 13 million individuals – do not have ready access to their their birth certificate.

Homeless veterans, battered women seeking safety, people thrown out of their homes by bank foreclosure, and others who have unexpectedly fallen on hard times and are temporarily living with relatives or in shelters or out of the trunk of their car (if they are lucky enough to still have a car) will have difficulty obtaining and renewing a Real ID driver's license because of that law's "documented proof of permanent residency" requirement.

By the end of the year, close to four million homes will have been repossessed since 2008 -- a number that could double before the foreclosure crisis ends. When you consider how many people are housed in those eight million family homes, it adds up to an alarming number of people who may lack the proof of permanent residence address documentation required to obtain ID.

Without that Real ID, they will be left without access to everything from welfare to health care to Social Security to winter heating assistance to the voting booth.


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