Need a driver's license or REAL ID? Prepare to wait months.
A major backlog has triggered months-long delays to renew an Oklahoma driver's license and obtain a REAL ID card.
The backlog can be blamed on several causes, including the pandemic, new software to process IDs and, in general, Oklahoma's self-imposed delay with even allowing the REAL ID-compliant licenses that will be required to board aircraft and visit federal buildings after Oct. 1.
The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety estimated 600,000 people might want a REAL ID. But as of Feb. 20, only 139,752 such credentials have been issued.
Oklahoma is one of the last states to comply with the federal REAL ID program. The Legislature resisted efforts to implement security features found in compliant cards for more than a decade after the REAL ID Act was passed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Finally, the state began issuing REAL IDs last year.
A five-month queue
Gina McKinnis booked an appointment this week to get a REAL ID for her and her children. The earliest opening was in August.
She'd already spent three weeks trying to renew her current driver's license, which still isn't considered REAL ID-compliant.
"It expired Sunday," McKinnis said. "Thankfully, I don't have to drive."
Lack of a current ID also can affect other things, such as financial transactions where an unexpired ID is mandatory.
After trying to book a renewal appointment with several tag agencies, she went online through the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to start the process.
Getting a new REAL ID-compliant license, however, requires an in-person visit to validate proofs of residency and identity. More often than not, a tag agent requires booking in advance instead of just walking in the door.
Tag agencies, which are private businesses working with the government to provide this service, only get one camera to take ID photos, said Sonya Triplett, who runs Northwest Tag Agency. The software that processes REAL ID applications also takes about four times longer to complete than the system for older cards.
"We used to do at least 80 driver's licenses in a day because we could turn them over that quickly," she said. "Well, we are celebrating if we get 30. There's 50 people that didn't get a license that day, five days a week."
Some of that time can be shaved off by uploading documents through Oklahoma's Mobile ID app.
These delays have caused frustration throughout the system, from residents angry about the wait to tag agents beaten down by an incredibly busy lobby eager to access one of the most basic functions of government.
Before Triplett implemented a booking schedule, she'd arrive at work each day with dozens of people waiting in line. Allowing walk-ins heightened tension inside the office, and her staff felt the brunt.
"They are cussed out every day. People are frustrated," she said. "Something that used to be as simple as walking in and getting a driver's license is now difficult to do, and it's frustrating for our customers and I'm sympathetic toward that."
Tag agents also have seen an uptick in business from customers wanting advanced products, like a commercial driver's license. Before Gov. Kevin Stitt signed an executive order last month, commercial driver's licenses were available only through state-run DPS offices that were heavily impacted by COVID restrictions, funding shortfalls and manpower issues.
Stitt said the change, among others he implemented in his order, was meant to reduce wait times. The backlog at DPS is at least 60 days for a REAL ID; the agency only books appointments out that far and new slots are opened each day at 6 p.m.
Until McKinnis gets her physical driver's license from DPS, she hopes she won't have to drive anywhere. Still, it's a complicated mess for a mother trying to support her college-age children. She'd even signed up recently to do gig work, shopping for and delivering groceries.
"It was just extra work, but right now I don't have a legal license to do it. I just feel bad for anyone who can't work and are going to starve because of this," she said.