Long Wait at Tenn. License Centers Grows Longer


NASHVILLE (AP) – As thousands of older Tennessee residents prepare to visit driver service centers to get the photo IDs required by a new state voting law, they should be ready to stand in line a long time.

The state says it takes an average of 53 minutes to get a license at any of the 48 centers.

Some who have recently obtained them said it has taken a lot longer, sometimes requiring more than one trip. Others cite apparent confusion among clerks about what is required, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Official records take into account only the time between a customer entering the building and getting served. They don't include time customers often spend in line before they actually get inside the service center, let alone the occasional need for coming more than once.

Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said he knows it takes too long – and now as many as 126,000 seniors who never were required to get a photo for their driver's license are coming back to get a free photo version.

Long waits have been a problem for years and at least two governors have made efforts to ease them. The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a law this year mandating that all Tennesseans have state or federally issued photo IDs to vote in elections beginning in 2012.

"It's one of our priorities to really focus on really reducing our wait times," Gibbons said.

Gov. Bill Haslam has ordered all departments to conduct "top to bottom" reviews aimed at making state government more efficient and cost effective.

Gibbons said his department is cooperating with Secretary of State Tré Hargett in getting information out to voters about how to get a photo ID. The department also is working to set up "express lines" for voters seeking such IDs, which are provided at no cost to the voter.

Other plans include moving time-consuming functions such as getting a driver's license reinstated following a DUI or other offenses into a different building.

The department also is working with county clerks.

According to state records, the longest official waits for licenses are at the Driver Services Center in Johnson City, where the average is 86.78 minutes.

"I still don't see what this controversy is going to be," said Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountsville, the state Senate speaker. "We're going to make sure that everybody who needs a voter photo ID will have a photo ID."

He said it is "amazing to me that in order to cash a check, in order to get on an airplane – just about anything – you need a photo ID."

"Yet the most sacred thing we have in our country – making sure you are who you say are when you vote – people question whether we should be able to do that," he said.

Tennessee House Democratic Leader Mike Turner of Old Hickory said "there was no need to do what we did. We have no terrorists voting in Tennessee."

Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com

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