The countdown has begun. In less than a year, regular Maine driver’s licenses won’t be accepted as identification for people trying to get aboard an airliner or to enter a secure federal building.

Mainers should take the time to study the rules so that they are not unpleasantly surprised next Oct. 1. New licenses that meet federal standards are available now, but before people run to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, they should take a hard look at what’s required. Not everyone is going to need one.

The REAL ID Act has been federal law since 2005, and after some resistance, Maine is now issuing compliant licenses and identification cards that meet the federal standards.

And even though the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles began issuing REAL ID-compliant licenses in July, it’s only an option. About 80 percent of the licenses issued this year are standard ones that are not REAL ID-compliant. Those licenses will still be valid identification for almost all the things people need identification for, and many people are choosing to save $20 and staying with the standard license.

But Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap told Maine Public he understands that there is still a lot of confusion about the different credentials, and he doesn’t expect that to change before the deadline. Dunlap is trying to get the word out now.

The requirements for a REAL ID license are stricter than for a regular Maine license. Applicants have to bring in documents that prove their citizenship or legal presence, tax forms and multiple proof of their residency. And a REAL ID license also costs $20 more than a standard license. But not everybody needs one.

The first question Dunlap asks people wondering what kind of license they should get is whether they have a passport. If the answer is “yes,” then they can use it to get on a plane, enter a military base or a nuclear power plant – or in other words, all the things that a standard Maine license won’t be good for. If they don’t mind carrying their passport, or a federally issued passport card, a standard Maine license will do.

A standard Maine license will still be proof of identity when cashing a check, picking up a prescription, registering to vote, renting a car or any of the other reasons for which people need to show proof of identity outside the federal system. Confusion about this point has been fueled by a disclaimer on standard licenses that says “Not for REAL ID purposes,” which has been erroneously read as “Not for ID purposes.” That language has been changed.

People who don’t have a passport but who will want to fly or enter a secure federal facility are going to want the REAL ID-compliant license, and they are going to have to get their licenses upgraded before the Oct. 1, 2020, deadline. But most Mainers, people with passports or those who don’t intend to fly, will not need to change anything.


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