Cumberland Times-News

January 26, 2013

It’s not always easy to prove who you are

Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— It is said that life consists of not a single journey, but many. Every few years, one of mine takes me to the West Virginia Motor Vehicle Administration office in Romney.

This requires a drive of about 40 minutes from my home in Keyser. Then it’s another 40 minutes to get to the newspaper office in Cumberland.

That doesn’t seem like much time, but going to Romney requires me to drive on U.S. Route 50, and that requires no further explanation for anyone who is suffered to navigate it.

Route 50 takes a path that’s more convoluted than the U.S. tax code.

My most recent journey to Romney was for the purpose of renewing my West Virginia driver’s license, and I was not looking forward to it.

Horror stories abound about West Virginians having to renew their licenses, and some involve people I know — including a lady in my high school class whose name underwent a non-marital change in the distant past.

 A new procedure requires several proofs of identity that would meet federal guidelines established under the Real ID Act. Heaven help you if, for whatever reason, you don’t have an acceptable birth certificate.

The goal is to curb terrorism by people who obtain false IDs, and West Virginia is one of only 13 states to have complied.

Others have so far refused, possibly because of the 10th Amendment, which specifies that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, or to the people.”

Someday, the states are going to gang up on the Federal Government and tell it where to go, and what to do on the way there. It’s happened before and is starting to happen now.

The new rules have been a pain in the (beast of burden) for those who have lived in the state for decades, if not all of their lives, and may have trouble digging up material they need — particularly women who have changed their names because of marriage or divorce.

It also affects men, including another of my friends who has lived in West Virginia for all of his 60-plus years, except for the time he spent in the Army as a gunner on a riverboat in Vietnam and didn’t need a driver’s license.

He had to go to the MVA three times before he got his license renewed.

Thanks to my father, who stored away my birth certificate and original Social Security card (on which is printed the admonition that it should not be used for identification purposes), I had two items that proved who I am.

I also had property tax receipts, a voter registration card, and so on.

I also had property tax receipts, a voter registration card, and so on. However, some contained my full name, while others carried only my first name, middle initial and last name, and there was no combination of them that included my full name and my Social Security number. The card has only my middle initial.

Would this be a stumbling block? I had no idea. When I have to deal with government at any level, I often get the whibbies. It took me two trips to Romney to get my driver’s license after moving to West Virginia seven years ago.

Last year’s W-2 Wage and Tax Statement would carry my full name and SS number, but I couldn’t find it. I had W-2s from years before, but there’s a limit as to how old they can be.

As a last resort, I dug into my stash of old papers and found my draft registration and draft cards, one of which has my middle initial, while the other has my full name.

Then another potential problem arose, thanks to my unfortunate habit of reading some of what I need to read, but not all of it.

The West Virginia MVA had sent me a paper explaining everything I needed to have in order to renew my license.

After I finally read the back page, I discovered that the MVA wanted to know where else I had a driver’s license in the last 10 years — and what its number was.

I moved to West Virginia from Maryland seven years ago and — reasonably so — had to surrender my Maryland license. What the number was, I had no idea.

So I went once more to the Maryland MVA in LaVale (only a 10-minute drive from my former home in Cumberland) and explained my predicament to a nice lady at the information desk.

She delved into the computer and wrote down my old number on a piece of paper. I thanked her and told her she had made my life a lot simpler.

At the last minute, I looked in the copy of last year’s tax return that a professional had prepared for me. There, stapled in the middle of it — where I thought I had looked before — was my W-2. Sigh of relief. Heavy relief.

If you go to the MVA, do so right after it opens and you probably won’t have to wait long.

The lady who took care of me in Romney was as nice as the lady in LaVale had been, and she said she wished everyone showed up as well-prepared as I was.

I told her that I worked for a newspaper and was familiar with the value of being prepared.

We talked about the new regulations and agreed that neither the state of West Virginia, nor the people who work for its Motor Vehicle Adminstration, are responsible for the problems the change has caused.

She said she had friends in Maryland, which if anything has made it easier to renew a license, but that — like every other state — Maryland eventually will have to start doing what West Virginia already has.

She’d never seen a draft card, and I told her that in 1966, this was as official as you could get.

The procedure was accomplished without incident.

Some people hate to go to the dentist, and others hate to go to the Motor Vehicle Administration. They usually have good reason.

I, however, have now dealt with MVA offices in two states and can honestly say I’ve not had a bad experience at either one.

The people who’ve waited on me in both LaVale and Cumberland have been friendly and helpful and, as a person who has to deal with the public on a daily basis just like they do, I am very much appreciative of that.