The Worst Colorado DMV Horror Story Yet

The Worst Colorado DMV Horror Story Yet
9News file photo
Update below: A woman who recently moved to Colorado maintains that she was charged for a new driver's license by the state Department of Motor Vehicles but never received one despite providing a huge pile of documents to prove who she was, including her license from the state where she had been living. After it was suggested that a Colorado license would be issued if she got a passport first, she lost her patience once and for all.

"I'm seventy years old," the woman notes via email. "A United States voting, working citizen. I should not need a passport, and have to pay $150 for one, to move about my country of birth!"

We're choosing not to name this new Colorado resident, who reached out to us after reading our September 4 post "Going to the DMV in Colorado Just Got Worse," because of the details about her experiences that she shared with us. Frankly, we don't want to cause her another headache, given the size of the one she's already got.

A few weeks ago, the woman moved to a community in western Colorado from Arizona — and she points out that her driver's license from that state "has the unfortunate words 'not for federal identification' printed on it."

Why? Arizona is not compliant with the REAL ID Act, which was passed by Congress in 2005 in a post-9/11 effort to enhance security among air travelers — and it's hardly the only state in this situation. A January New York Times article catalogued 22 states that weren't REAL ID-compliant, as well as 26 states and territories given an extension until October 10 to get with the program. In the meantime, Arizonans who fly frequently must file for a voluntary travel ID to meet federal requirements.

An Arizona driver's license wasn't the only form of identification the woman presented to the folks at her local Colorado DMV. She also provided a birth certificate, her Social Security number, a Medicare card, a voter's ID card, proof of local address and more.

But that wasn't deemed sufficient. According to the woman, she was asked to procure a printout from Arizona's motor vehicle department, "which I paid for and obtained online. Not enough. They wanted a birth certificate from one of my grown children. I provided that, too."

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At that point, she goes on, the local office scanned the documents she brought and "sent it to the regional supervisor in Grand Junction. They put me through all the usual license process: took my picture and charged my credit card for a license. But the next morning, I received a call stating my marriage license from my second marriage was needed."

That was a problem. The original batch of documents had included her divorce document, but she no longer had the marriage license, which dated back 35 years.

Her reaction? "I said, 'Stuff it.'"

To get a sense about what documents are needed in such a scenario, we got into contact with Sarah Werner, communications manager for the Colorado Department of Revenue, which encompasses the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Via email, she told us that "Colorado is a REAL ID-compliant state. This means that Colorado driver licenses may be used for federal identification purposes, such as boarding domestic flights and entering federal facilities. As a REAL ID-compliant state, Colorado must follow all requirements of the REAL ID Act."

In order "to transfer an out-of-state license to Colorado," she continues, "an individual needs to prove name, date of birth, identity and lawful presence." Here's her list of documents that prove all four of these elements:

• CO Driver License/Permit (expired less than 10 years & lawful presence and SSN on file with DMV)
• CO ID Card (expired less than 10 years & lawful presence and SSN on file with DMV)
• Out of State DL/ID with Enhancement Indicator (unexpired)
• US Passport (unexpired)
• I-551 (Permanent Resident) verified by SAVE (unexpired)
• Certificate of Naturalization w/photo (less than 20 yrs old)
• Certificate of Citizenship w/photo

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If an individual doesn't have any of this paperwork, Werner states that they'll need "a combination of documents to meet the requirement." Her roster of the most common docs are:

• U.S. birth certificate (state or county Issued) or Consular Report of Birth Abroad (name, date of birth, lawful presence)
• Out of State REAL ID document (identity)

Click to see the complete list of "other options that will meet requirements."

But that's not all. Werner reveals that "in addition to the documents listed above, the individual also needs one of the documents below to show proof of their Social Security number:"

• Social Security Account Number Card (not laminated)
• W-2 Form
• SSA-1099 Form
• Non-SSA-1099 Form
• Pay stub with your name and full SSN

On top of that, a person must prove Colorado residency by way of any two of the documents on this DMV page.

Werner acknowledges that "if an individual cannot prove any of the elements listed above, they may be eligible for exceptions processing" — but "if their out-of-state license has been expired for more than one year, they will also need to take the written and driving tests. Written tests are available by walk-in or appointment and driving tests may be taken by appointment only."

That's a helluva lot of hoops to jump through, and the new Western Slope resident feels confident she's not the only person so frustrated that they bailed out on the process entirely: "I'm assuming most drivers in this situation just keep their mouths shut and drive on their out-of-state license."

Still, she characterizes the rules in Colorado as "utterly ridiculous...I was charged for something I was not given. That in itself is wrong!"

Not all state bureaucracy has been so difficult to navigate. She points out that "I received my Colorado Voter Identification paper last week. I can vote, but not drive!"

Actually, she can. She recently "did the fantastic back-road drive over the Last Dollar Ranch road to Telluride in my Jeep Renegade. One of the most beautiful drives anywhere!"

She emphasizes that she is "loving my move to beautiful Colorado...other than the DMV."

Update: After the original publication of this post, the woman whose story it tells received a copy of her 1980s-era marriage license and submitted it to the DMV office near where she now lives. On October 15, she finally was granted a Colorado driver's license. Her email to us about the development concludes with this sentence: "Oh happy day and happy ending." But it took a long time getting there.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts