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Alaska News

Alaska’s Real ID program has begun. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: January 3
  • Published January 2

A poster informs people of the availability of the Real ID program on Wednesday at the Anchorage DMV office. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

JUNEAU — After more than a decade of opposition from state lawmakers, the federal Real ID program has arrived in Alaska.

On Wednesday, the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles began issuing licenses that follow federal guidelines approved by Congress under the Real ID Act of 2005. Alaskans will have until Oct. 1, 2020, to get a new driver’s license, according to the DMV and the Department of Homeland Security, which administers the program. After that date, anyone with a traditional license will not be able to use it to enter a federal building, military base or board a commercial airliner. (A passport or global entry card, however, may be used instead.)

“The DMV is excited to announce that Real IDs are available across the state of Alaska starting today, Jan. 2. The best thing that people can do to be prepared when they come into the DMV is to have the proper documentation, which they can research by visiting our website and going through our Real ID checklist,” said Jenna Wamsganz, deputy director of the Alaska DMV.

To get one of the new licenses, you’ll have to visit a DMV office. A Real ID costs twice as much as a traditional driver’s license — $40 instead of $20 — and you’ll have to bring some extra documentation. According to the DMV’s checklist, a passport, naturalization certificate or birth certificate is needed to confirm your identity. You’ll also need to bring a Social Security card (or another document that has your Social Security number, such as a pay stub) and two non-handwritten documents that list your primary address, such as rental agreements, mortgage bills, bank records, home utility bills or other documents approved by the DMV.

The new IDs have a distinctive look: a green-and-blue holographic silhouette of Denali with fireweed adorning the left side and a moose on the right side. A transparent star in a black roundel signifies that the license meets federal standards.

The new Alaska driver's license form, photographed Wednesday, allows residents to choose from a federally compliant Real ID or a standard license. The standard license cannot be used to board a commercial airliner or enter a military base or federal building starting Oct. 1, 2020. (James Brooks / ADN)

It is not yet clear how the Real ID program will be administered in communities without a DMV office.

“We don’t have a solution in place yet, but it is high on our priority list,” Wamsganz said, noting that the state has almost two years before traditional licenses are no longer good for boarding aircraft.

“We’re actively looking at ways we can access these communities and help these folks,” she said.

Traditional driver’s licenses are still available from DMV offices for Alaskans who don’t need to board a commercial airliner or enter a federal facility, or are willing to use a passport instead. All commercial driver’s licenses will be compliant with Real ID, and the cost of a new commercial ID will rise from $100 to $120.

The changes are due to the federal government’s push to increase the security of driver’s licenses and other forms of ID.

The Real ID guidelines, written in the years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are intended to provide uniform security standards for driver’s licenses across the United States. Privacy advocates have opposed the legislation because of clauses that allow driver’s license applicants' information to be shared with other states. The law also allows the government to store pictures of faces and copies of identity documents.

Opposition to Real ID in Alaska has been a bipartisan effort since 2008, when state lawmakers approved a resolution calling for Congress to repeal the program and approved a bill barring the state from spending money to follow the Real ID Act. Five years later, lawmakers went a step further and voted to block the use of any state resources to comply with the 2005 federal law.

Though Alaska and a few other states repeatedly received waivers from the Department of Homeland Security to delay Real ID implementation, the federal government in 2017 warned Alaska that it would not be granted additional time. After that, lawmakers lifted the ban on state compliance with the law.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that only specific documents showing primary residency may be presented to the DMV to obtain a Real ID, rather than simply two pieces of mail showing an applicant’s current address.

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