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Dec. 6—Mainers now have two more years to get a Real ID before they need one — or some other federally approved identification, such as a passport — to board a commercial plane.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it has extended the date when conventional IDs will no longer be accepted for domestic flights, from May 3, 2023, to May 7, 2025.
Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said the extension is welcome news, as only about 14% of Mainers with a driver's license or other state identification have a Real ID. Nationally, that figure is about 49%, according to the Washington Post.
After the now-extended deadline, the standard, state-issued identification cards won't get you past airport security checkpoints or entries to federal facilities. You'll need a Real ID — that is, a driver's license or state ID that meets new, more stringent federal security criteria. A passport will also be accepted.
Congress created the Real ID program in 2005 to establish minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and ID cards. The change came following a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission.
But many states, including Maine, received postponements, saying they weren't ready for the new rules. Ultimately, Maine began issuing Real IDs in 2019. Then the pandemic hit, and the federal government delayed enforcing the Real ID requirement.
The Department of Homeland Security said Monday that the extension is necessary to address the lingering impact of the pandemic on the ability to obtain a Real ID.
"Real ID progress over the past two years has been significantly hindered by state driver's licensing agencies having to work through the backlogs created by the pandemic," the agency said in a news release.
So far, the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles has handed out 162,700 of the IDs, which is slightly more than the total last month and equal to 14.1% of the 1.15 million license and ID holders in the state.
Bellows said previously that the number is lower than she would like. But on Monday she noted the modest increase and said more time will only benefit Mainers, as they decide whether getting a Real ID is the right decision for them.
Bellows, formerly the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said many residents had legitimate security and privacy concerns when the Real ID program was first enacted in 2005.
Some of those concerns have been addressed, she said, but some people may be hesitant because of lingering questions and because of the additional cost. A Real ID is $55 compared to $30 for a new, Class C Maine driver's license.
The ACLU still has reservations about the requirement, which it says will have a "tremendously destructive" impact on privacy by effectively turning driver's licenses into a form of national identity documents.
"If fully implemented, the law would facilitate the tracking of data on individuals and bring government into the very center of every citizen's life," the organization said in an online post. "It would also impose significant administrative burdens and expenses on state governments and it would mean higher fees, longer lines, repeat visits to the DMV and bureaucratic nightmares for individuals."
The Department of Homeland Security, however, says the Real ID does not create any sort of federal database, and that each state continues to issue its own unique license, maintain its own records and control access to those records.
It is not, as Bellows said many were initially concerned, a sort of "one-stop shop" database for identification information.
The application requirements for a Real ID are stricter than for the current IDs and licenses. According to the BMV, in addition to the standard license requirements, anyone applying for a Real ID will need a document that establishes identity, date of birth and proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful status (such as a passport), a Social Security number or document explaining ineligibility for it, and two documents to establish proof of residency in Maine.
Applicants also will have a photo taken, and must visit a BMV branch in person to be issued a Real ID-compliant license or state ID.
The Secretary of State's Office has been working on an education campaign with local airports and has sent people out to spread the word about the Real ID over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Bellows said the extension gives more time for similar efforts, which will likely happen during other peak travel times.
In October, the bureau rolled out an online appointment system to speed the process for Mainers who don't want to take time off work to wait in line at one of the 13 BMV offices.
Bellows said that the appointment system is a permanent addition to the BMV.
The new process has been running smoothly, she said, and has helped smooth out some of the ups and downs of customer traffic in the branches.
"So often it's a guessing game whether the branch lobby will be really full or really empty when you arrive," Bellows said, and the appointment system has helped many to cut down on wait times that in some cases could exceed two hours.
The BMV has struggled with long waits in recent years due to staffing shortages. The impact of these shortages has been even more obvious since the pandemic. Data shows that BMV customer visits are up around 20% this year over previous years.
Bellows said the department is currently brainstorming other ways to streamline and improve the BMV experience for residents and employees.