Real Nightmare  
Privacy Statement User Agreement Contact Us Site Map
About The Issue Opposition Voices Resources / Tools In the States News / Updates Action Center


About The Issue > Real Stories

In Attempt to Implement Real ID, Indiana Will Revoke Licenses of Thousands

Beginning next week, the BMV will send letters to 206,000 people asking them to update their driver’s license or state identification card information. If the BMV doesn’t get correct information or does not hear from those people, their licenses or ID cards will be revoked.

"Mismatched Records May Cost Hoosiers Their Licenses," The Indianapolis Star, November 2, 2007.  

ID Requirements Depriving Citizens of Health Care

New federal rules that mirror the Real ID Act in requiring a birth certificate to prove one’s citizenship as a condition of eligibility for Medicaid benefits have dramatically reduced rates of enrollment, state health officials report.

Robert Pear, "Citizens Who Lack Papers Lose Medicaid," New York Times, March 12, 2007.  Online >

Disabled Entrapped by ID Rules

Bobby Hartwell overcame the challenges of cerebral palsey and mental retardation to live on his own – with help from the state of Colorado.  Now the state is threatening to take away his benefits because he cannot come up with the documentation to obtain a photo ID.

Karen Auge, "Disabled Entrapped by ID Rules," Denver Post, March 4, 2007.  Online >

Real ID a Nightmare for Military Veterans

Navy veteran Gerard P. Keenan worries about the burdens his family will endure under the Real ID Act.  Keenan’s children were born while he was stationed overseas, have foreign birth certificates and foreign passports, and will likely face huge bureaucratic hurdles when they try to renew their driver’s licenses in the US.

Gerard P. Keenan, "Real ID – A Real Nightmare," Op-Ed News, February 16, 2007.  Online >

Need Proof?  Don’t Count on Driver’s License.

"When my wife went to renew her Illinois driver’s license recently, the clerks and supervisors at the secretary of state’s office were not satisfied that she was who she claimed to be."

Eric Zorn, "Need Proof? Don’t Count on Driver’s License," Chicago Tribune column, January 4, 2006. 

Yes, I really am Jo Dee.  Still.  Really.

The story of one Alaska resident’s attempt to prove her identity to the DMV.  Jo Dee Pederson lost her driver’s license and was told she could not use her Social Security card because her last name had changed (she got married).  Her Kafkaesque experience promises to become the norm across the country if the Real ID Act is implemented.

Jo Dee Pederson, "Yes, I really am Jo Dee.  Still.  Really," Anchorage Daily News, November 1, 2006. 

More Problems in Alabama

Alabama newspapers are reporting more Real-ID related snafus — a sign of things to come for other states if the Act is rolled out across the nation.  On July 23, the Decatur Daily News reported long lines and waits at the Madison, AL motor vehicles office.  The paper wrote:

The problem is compounded because Alabama is one of only a handful of states that requires U.S. citizens to do additional identity verification for Real I.D., a national information linking system that doesn’t take effect until 2008. This creates problems for people whose names on birth certificates differ from names on previous driver licenses. Marriage and divorce are other examples that can create a problem. In every instance, paperwork must be provided and verified.

The next week, things got even worse at Alabama licensing offices due to the failure of a computer server and problems with a network that does national database checks.  The network problems were a direct result of Real ID, officials said.  It was not clear what caused the server problem and whether Real ID disruptions were behind that also.

"Wait to get driver license is expected, but this long? Server failure causes computers to crash statewide," Decatur Daily News, July 30, 2006.  Online >

New Jersey Vet’s License Caught in Real ID Limbo

James Scott, a veteran of WWII, cannot renew his driver’s license thanks to the verification requirements of New Jersey’s Six-Point System, which mimics the requirements of Real ID.  "I served this country," says Scott.  "The President didn’t want my birth certificate when he sent the letter drafting me."

"ID Requirement Idles Drivers’ Independence," North Jersey Media Group, March 25, 2006.  

Retired Fireman Can’t Get License Due To Real ID Bureaucracy


Bill Cattorini, a 33-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, is experiencing first-hand the Real ID bureaucracy nightmare.  Due to a discrepancy between his birth certificate and his Social Security record, the Illinois Secretary of State is refusing to renew his driver’s license – all part of an attempt by the state to comply with Real ID, which is already wreaking havoc on the lives of ordinary Americans.

Mark Brown tells Bill’s story in the Chicago Sun-Times, March 21, 2006.  PDF >

The Alabama Mess: One State Tries To Begin Tackling Real ID

State administrators, governors, and others have been warning about the disruption and chaos that actual implementation of Real ID will likely bring. This is not mere speculation, however – one attempt to begin initiating early compliance with the law already created such enormous confusion and disruption that it had to be halted.

One of the Real ID Act’s requirements is that names on compliant driver’s licenses must exactly match individuals’ names as held by the Social Security Administration. Noting this, officials in Alabama decided to get a head start on complying with that aspect of the law. The state’s motor vehicles department (the Department of Public Safety or DPS), began sending letters to individuals whose records were mismatched, demanding that they correct the "erroneous" information on their driver’s licenses.

The result was a fiasco. Thousands of panicked Alabama residents jammed DPS offices worried that they would lose their right to drive. And, because the state began its records review with the oldest records, many of the reported 65,000-80,000 drivers who got letters were senior citizens.

Many recipients of the letter – some of whom had been driving for 50 years or longer –  became panicked that they would lose their means of traveling around the largely rural state. Many elderly drivers were also reportedly worried that their Social Security checks or pensions would be interrupted if they did not "fix" the problem right away. "Here are people who have been law-abiding citizens all their lives, and then they get this letter," state legislator Neal Morrison told the Associated Press. "It scared them to death."

Anyone whose name as recorded by the motor vehicles department differed by the slightest amount from the way their name was recorded by the Social Security Administration received a letter. Recipients were instructed that they had to visit a DPS office to "correct" their data before they would be allowed to renew their license. That included, for example, women who had changed their last name on one card but not the other after a marriage or divorce, people with nicknames, and even those with slight variations in their names, such as a middle initial appearing on one but not the other. In quintessential bureaucratic fashion, the letter informed individuals that the name as listed on their driver’s license – though it might well be a person’s preferred form of address – was "erroneous."

Many citizens were also angered by the delays and fees that they encountered when they tried to comply with the letter. One 70-year-old woman had to go to the motor vehicles office for three days straight, the AP reported, finally obtaining a new license on the third day after a two-and-a-half-hour wait. Then, she was asked to pay an $18 fee – the state’s standard payment for a new or duplicate license – and she "hit the ceiling."Another cost for many was the need to pay additional fees to obtain a new or replacement birth certificate.

Apologetic DPS officials halted the effort in the face of all these problems (including calls from state legislators who had heard from their constituents), and promised to try to lessen the problems by clarifying their explanations of the situation in future letters. Nevertheless, the fact remained that the cause of the disruption was not going to go away: the looming reality of the REAL ID Act. As the Alabama officials explained, "Public Safety regrets the inconvenience, aggregation and confusion this has caused licensed drivers, but we are mandated to do this by federal law."

Alabama’s unfortunate experience trying to get a jump on implementing just one aspect of the sprawling Real ID legislation is merely a glimpse of what states and their residents can expect over the next few years if implementation of this legislation proceeds as scheduled. Bureaucratic hair-splitting, confusing instructions, long waits, overwhelmed offices, missed work, infuriating bureaucratic runarounds, and additional fees are what this legislation promises for Americans. All for – what?


M.J. Ellington, "Your life on your license: Alabama a step ahead in national ID debate," The Decatur Daily News, May 13, 2005.

Mark Harrison, "License confusion possible," [Fort Payne, Alabama] Times-Journal, October 1, 2005.

Alan Elsner, "Road to digital driver’s licenses chaotic," Reuters, October 10, 2005.

Associated Press and Decatur Daily News staff, "Alabama puts brakes on license notification," October 7, 2005.

FAQs On Issue