Utah can’t find 76,000 Utah driver license holders

In October, state officials lamented that they could not find correct addresses for 50,000 redesigned driver licenses that were returned by the U.S. Postal Service. Without them, drivers will not be able to use their licenses as identification at airports beginning Oct. 1.

The problem has since grown 50% worse.

Now, “a little over 76,000 licenses are in our possession that we haven’t been able to find an updated address for,” says Chris Caras, director of Utah Driver License Division. The new design adds a gold star to show at a glance that the holder is a U.S. citizen or legal resident.

The increasing number of returned licenses comes as the state continues, as scheduled, to send out more replacement cards in advance of the upcoming deadline, and more keep coming back.

“As of today, we’ve sent out more than 1.4 million replacement cards,” Caras said. About 100,000 were returned because of incorrect addresses. Proper addresses have been found for 24,000 of them so far.

“We have ordered additional storage files three times in this process and just keep filling them up” with returned licenses, Caras said.

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) “Monday’s are the worst,” said Utah Driver License Division records manager Britani Flores on Oct. 1, 2019. She receives on average three mail bins a day of returned driver license envelopes due to incorrect postal addresses. Each license is refiled in a filing cabinet until the correct postal address is updated on the division website.

Most of the 24,000 addresses that were corrected were reported after a state news conference in October publicized the problem and directed people to a website where they may check whether they should have received a new license — and how to report an address change. Caras said relatively few people have been checking the website since then.

So Caras is again urging people to check that website, dld.utah.gov.

He said people should look at two places there. One is a tab titled “gold star license check.”

“It will let you enter your information and see if we have a produced a card and tried to get it out to you, so you know whether or not you should have received one by now,” Caras said.

The website also has an “address change” tab, where drivers can ensure the division has their current address or may change it as needed.

By law, people are supposed to notify the Driver License Division within 10 days when they change addresses. Obviously, at least 100,000 failed to do that — and led to 76,000 of them not receiving redesigned cards so far.

Caras said part of the problem is that some people believe that if they notify one state agency about an address change — say the Department of Motor Vehicles — that it means that all state agencies, including the Driver License Division, then know about it.

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Utah Driver License Division director Chris Caras on Oct. 1, 2019.

“It does not work that way,” Caras said. “So, if people have updated their address with one state agency, I would still ask they that please check and make sure that we have the correct information because we don’t receive those updates from other state agencies.”

Caras worries that many of the people without updated licenses will be caught unaware next October and be unable to fly using their old licenses as ID. (They could fly with other government ID that shows their citizenship had been checked, such as a passport.)

“I know that out of those 76,000 people, not all of them are going to be traveling," Caras said. “But we don’t want anyone to be affected in that way. And the potential is very much there for someone either not to be able to fly out or not be able to fly home after that deadline.”

He added that the Department of Homeland Security has shown no signs that it will extend the deadline. “So we really need to be prepared by that October date.”

The Legislature in late 2018 allowed spending millions of dollars for redesigned and reissued licenses to solve a problem that arose because lawmakers in 2010 banned state officials from taking any further steps to comply with the federal REAL ID Act, as part of a protest over unfunded federal mandates.

Utah had never redesigned its licenses with the federally required gold star to show at a glance that the holders had been checked to ensure they are a U.S. citizen or legal resident.

That occurred even though Utah had taken steps to ensure such status by requiring drivers for a few years to renew licenses in person with proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate or passport, which created long lines and delays.

Utah argued that such steps should have allowed the Transportation Security Administration and others to accept its licenses as valid ID, but the federal government insisted on a design with the required gold star.