After a bumpy start, Oklahomans are making the transition to REAL ID.
But that doesn’t mean Lawton tag agents and officials with the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety don’t have advice for residents who are visiting their facilities to renew licenses or convert existing licenses to the identification compliant with the federal REAL ID process. And, that advice is the same two words.
“Be patient,” said Lawton tag agency operators Mary McKinzie and Nancy Davison, and DPS spokesperson Sarah Stewart.
The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS) began issuing REAL IDs in late June at sites in Oklahoma City and Edmond, before the process spread to the rest of the state. The goal was to expand to all 33 Department of Public Safety offices and more than 300 tag agencies by the end of the year, ensuring those sites could issue the REAL ID driver’s licenses that are intended to ensure a consistent and secure identification system across the nation.
Stewart said the process has been completed for all DPS offices and all but eight tag agencies. After a 16-week rollout, most of Oklahoma’s tag agencies have the equipment and are issuing the licenses, although 14 tag agencies (including the Motor Vehicle Tag Agency on West Lee Boulevard in Lawton) have opted out (that number may change as officials talk to agents to see if they will change their mind, Stewart said). For those who opt out, equipment will be removed and they will not be able to issue driver’s licenses, although they still can handle activities such as vehicle tags and titles.
“It’s all or nothing,” Stewart, said in terms of those tag agencies that issue driver’s licenses.
As of Nov. 16, those sites had issued 159,474 driver’s licenses: 61,825 (almost 39 percent) that are REAL ID and 97,649 that are not.
Despite kinks in the early months, Stewart said the process has been running more smoothly in recent weeks. But there still are complaints from residents seeking licenses and the tag agencies issuing them. The biggest: there is a backup of customers, a problem many tag agents are working around by setting appointments for those who want REAL IDs.
There also are problems with wait times, not always associated with the actual application.
“Some people are taking a little bit longer to get actual credentials in the mail,” Stewart said, explaining state officials initially were told it would take five to seven business days for new credentials to be mailed to residents. “Some people, it’s been up to 30 days. But, that temporary credential is good for that entire time. You get your expired license back and have that temporary credential that you need in the interim.”
Stewart was referring to a new step in the licensing process. Traditionally, those who receive or renew their license leave the tag agency or DPS office with new license in hand. With REAL ID, they are given a paper copy of their license. The license itself will be mailed to the applicant in two to four weeks; in the meantime, the paper copy is good for proof of license in most instances.
But, those paper credentials won’t work everywhere, and that’s why Stewart recommends that residents obtain their REAL ID in advance of activities such as flying. While Oklahoma has a waiver from complying with the REAL ID Act until Oct. 1, 2021 (meaning your old license will work until then), TSA won’t accept paper credentials as ID to fly domestically, she said.
Davison, of the Lawton-Fort Sill Tag Agency at 29 SW D, and McKinzie, of the Comanche County Tag Agency at 902 SW 38th, say the the process of implementing a new driver’s license process has been stressful, but McKinzie said the situation is easing as workers become more familiar with the process and residents learn about the application process. Problems at both sites are similar: the licensing process is much longer and many applicants are coming in without all the documentation they need.
“It’s time consuming,” said Davison, of a process that she said cut her staff’s ability to issue driver’s licenses from 60 to 100 day, to about 20 a day “and that’s if we don’t have any problems.”
Irene Cardona, office manager for the Comanche County Tag Agency, said her office can process about 30 a day, when they used to do 120 licenses a day.
“It’s frustrating for us,” Cardona said, explaining the process is slowed by the fact that the four documents applicants need to provide for identification must be scanned, then digitally transmitted to a central data base where they are confirmed before the REAL ID can be processed.
Every Oklahoma site that issues driver’s licenses sends to that same location, Cardona said. And, if there is a problem, the wait can be longer because of the limited number of people available in the central office, tag agents said.
Another issue isn’t so much a problem as it is time consuming. Veterans who are certified as 100 percent disabled get their Oklahoma driver’s licenses for free, but they must be removed from the system for that to happen “and that takes a long time,” Davison said of a process that could take up to an hour.
“When it all goes smoothly, it still is time consuming,” she said, explaining that processing a REAL ID means one of her workers is off the front counter for at least 20 minutes, meaning they aren’t available for other things that the tag agency does, such as renewing vehicle tags.
Davison, McKinzie and Cardona said the biggest issue has been residents who don’t bring the proper documentation they must have. McKinzie said that, locally, residents are unfamiliar with the new process and the documents needed. REAL ID was unveiled in Oklahoma City and Tulsa in early summer, so residents there are more familiar with what needs to be done, she said. Her agency has been issuing REAL ID’s since September; for Davison, that process didn’t begin until Nov. 1.
“Any new thing takes time to learn,” McKinzie said, adding the process is getting smoother as everyone becomes familiar with the process.
“We’re all in this together,” she said. “We’re optimistic: it will get better.”