Road Worrier

Road Worrier: Photo IDs, new for NC voters, are a big business for DMV

September 2, 2013 

A sample image of an ID card.


  • Who gets photo IDs?

    From 2005 through 2012, the state Division of Motor Vehicles issued 1.47 million photo ID cards to:

    687,862 African-Americans

    600,168 Caucasians

    94,840 non-white Hispanics

    20,942 American Indians

    16,475 Asians

    45,184 who did not indicate their ethnic identity

    Of this group, 347,610 were 19 or younger and 153,689 were 60 or older.

    Source: NCDMV data

North Carolina’s strict new voting law, which takes effect starting with elections in 2016, will make the state Division of Motor Vehicles a prime source of photo identification cards for non-drivers who want to vote.

It turns out that photo IDs already are a big business for DMV. More than 1.1 million North Carolinians have valid DMV-issued photo IDs (which expire after 5 years), compared to 6.7 million with state driver’s licenses.

Last year more than 270,000 people provided the necessary stack of documents, posed for the camera and, in most cases, paid a $10 fee.

Why did they want these photo IDs? For any of the reasons anybody might be asked to prove his or her identity, of course: To get a loan or cash a check, to satisfy a curious police officer, to receive some kinds of government services, to get a job.

Some of the folks who got DMV IDs are ex-drivers who surrendered their licenses because of age or illness. Many are too young to drive (8,671 of them last year were under 15 years old).

And 122 of these were less than 1 year old – too young even to walk.

“There are a lot of lap babies in our database,” said Marge Howell, a DMV spokeswoman. “A lot of people come in to get these ID cards for their children. Sometimes, as the child grows, they’ll come back to get progressive photographs to show that growth.”

In order to vote, you’ll need to get a DMV ID card if you don’t have one of the photo IDs accepted under the new law: a driver’s license, U.S. passport, U.S. military or veterans ID card, or tribal enrollment card.

This is a pretty exclusive list, isn’t it? After all, a UNC student ID card will get you into your dorm. And a corporate or government employee ID card will admit you to your biohazard lab at RTP, or to your job inside a courthouse or a maximum-security prison. But a student or employee ID won’t get you inside the voting booth.

The DMV ID looks exactly like a driver’s license, but with a different label. The $10 fee is waived for anyone who is blind or homeless or at least 70 years old, or whose driver’s license has been canceled under certain circumstances.

Be forewarned: Before you can get your DMV ID, you’ll need two documents to prove your ID to DMV. The requirements are the same as for a driver’s license.

And they are tough. Neither a U.S. passport – the gold standard at airports around the world – nor a certified birth certificate alone is sufficient to prove you’re who you say you are, but DMV will accept both documents together.

The DMV documents list offers alternatives including tax, school and court papers. Whatever documents you bring, make sure they show your full name.

You also have to prove that you have a Social Security number, and that you’re a North Carolina resident.

Starting in January, DMV will waive the fee for anyone who gets a photo ID for the purpose of voting.

Agency officials are still working out how they will decide who pays and who doesn’t. The DMV website says prospective voters will have to bring proof of voter registration, but Howell said DMV has long been in the habit of helping people become voters when they apply for licenses or ID cards.

“If they’re not a voter but they wish to apply for a voter ID card, they must register to vote at the DMV office,” Howell said. “We will be sure you fill out that application while you are at the DMV, and then we will send it to the Board of Elections.”

As with driver’s licenses, you’ll walk out of the DMV office with a piece of paper – not your new voter ID card. It will arrive in the mail within 10 to 20 days, Howell said.

Make contact: 919-829-4527 or or On Twitter @Road_Worrier.

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