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Driver License Rules Easier for RVers Than Long-Time Residents

Last week I mentioned how the cost of obtaining a driver license may make requiring a photo ID to vote unconstitutional. Sunday, a neighbor from Wilmot gave me a ring and reinforced my concerns by pointing out how hard it is to get the most common photo ID, a driver license, here in South Dakota... at least for actual residents of the state.

At the end of 2009, with hardly a peep from our purportedly liberty-conscious Republicans and Tea drinkers, South Dakota imposed new identification requirements for folks seeking the simple privilege of driving a car. My Wilmot correspondent ran into these requirements this year when he went to renew his driver license. He brought what he thought would be sufficient to prove his identity: birth certificate, Social Security card, and two utility bills showing his name and address. But the license examiner turned him away. His birth certificate, the same document he'd used to get his Social Security card, wasn't enough for the State of South Dakota. It was a mere hospital birth certificate; state law demands a certified birth cetificate issued by the state or county.

My friend thus had to drive to the next county, where he was born, shell out $26 at the courthouse for a birth certificate with a government stamp, and return to wade through the license renewal line again. Sounds like a pretty taxing experience on a long-time resident whom any number of employees in the courthouse could probably look at and say, "Oh, yeah, I know him! He's who he says he is. Give him his license!"

Shortly after this Republican-imposed runaround, my fellow South Dakotan met some nice people from Indiana who were coming here not to enjoy the rich South Dakota culture and quality of life but simply to dodge taxes. They're RVers and spend at least part of the year traveling the country. They were setting up their permanent "residence" in South Dakota through my Madison neighbor Jon Knuths's business, MyDakotaAddress. Their presence in South Dakota will consist of a mailbox at 110 East Center Street in Madison and a few instances of their names and data scattered across some databases.

These Indianians needed to get South Dakota driver licenses. My Wilmot friend chuckled and warned them how complicated it would be. They told him their new friend at had assured them it would be no sweat. The Indianians had passports and Social Security cards. But what about address documents? As RVers, they have no utility bills or mortgage statements. My Wilmot friend was sure the Indianians were out of luck.

Oh no, said the Indianians, we've got that licked. They showed him their motel bill. Camp at Motel 6 or KOA for one night, keep that receipt, hand it to the driver license examiner with a Residency Affidavit, and you're not just good, you're South Dakotan.

My Wilmot friend felt a little put out. He felt these Indianians and the thousands of other RVers declaring South Dakota as their tax haven are getting one more break that we locals don't. It's one thing to roll out hospitality for our out-of-state guests. But if the whole point of these license ID requirements is security, we seem to have things backwards. From a homeland security perspective, one would think we would impose more requirements, not fewer, on itinerants whom we've never seen before who come to our state asking for an official photo ID.

Apparently, as my Wilmot friend discovered, South Dakota is less interested in rigorous ID requirements for strangers than in protecting the financial interests of a niche mailbox industry.

Now my Wilmot friend got me wondering about some other possible impacts of these RV-mailbox businesses on South Dakota... but that's another post. Stay tuned!


  1. Wayne Pauli 2011.04.19

    I will be arriving at the DMV in Madison this morning for my renewal. I have my passport, my Social Securty card, my W-2 from 2010 and my Lake County Real Estate Assesment statement...So we shall see if that is enough. Funny thing is I do not keep my utility bills, they go straight into the shredder as they are all auto deducted form my checking account. As I used to advise my customers when they started the process of getting a long term mortgage on their house...and it applies to people working on their dissertations...If you do not have a sense of humor, do not attempt to complete these tasks.

    {CAH: Ah ha! That explains my difficulties!}

  2. Chris 2011.04.19

    I wonder how inflated South Dakota's population numbers really are. Do these RVers have to fill out census forms in South Dakota?

    {CAH: That's what I'm working on right now, Chris. Your census form counts you at your mailing address. Emery saw its local RV mailing address business cause an on-paper population boom. Stay tuned for Madison's numbers....}

  3. Nick Nemec 2011.04.19

    Those RVers also vote. As retired people with enough money to travel the country in an RV on permanent vacation they tend to vote GOP. They have little understanding of local issues that drive things like school board or municipal elections. Maybe they skip those local elections, a little leg work could verify if in fact they do.

  4. Wayne Pauli 2011.04.19

    RV or not, I got me some new plastic in my pocket. I brought the correct stuff to get a new photo taken. When I retire and start traveling I will not be voting, sorry, but the poeple with a dog in the hunt need to be deciding. I will be spending my money in Texas, I should not have a voice in good old SD if I am not willing to suffer through the winters (which I am not willing) :-)

  5. Roger Elgersma 2011.04.19

    Is this why Jason Gant campaigned on the issue of keeping Washington out of our voter registration. He does not what anyone to know what he is doing to manipulate the vote. Maybe this is why Washington needs to keep an eye on things.

  6. Wayne Pauli 2011.04.19

    You know Roger I had not thought of that, but it is credible. Who has the money? The people that travel and are gone in November. Who is the Republican base? The people with money. OK, you people that like to own guns can claim it if you want, I am not going to argue with a gun totting group. My Dad taught me that. Just walk away Wayne, do not make them mad.

  7. Lauri 2011.04.19

    Interesting debate. I thought the new requirements came from the federal level. I know the changes in Iowa were to meet fed. requirements or lose federal funding.

  8. larry kurtz 2011.04.19

    Good eye, Cory. The Spearditch City Campground has been doing this for twenty five years that i know of.

  9. Douglas Wiken 2011.04.19

    I am curious if marriage licenses will work as ID's for males.

  10. Jim Hock 2011.04.19

    The new changes are federal and part of either the "patriot" act or real id.
    As for your friend with the hospital birth cert, most of them say on them they are not a legal document, so he got lucky using it for as long as he did. That is also the document all the "birthers" are looking for (hawaii said it destroyed all the copies they kept of those).
    I had to send away to get a copy of my birth certificate when i renewed my license this past winter. I haven't needed it since I was 16 to get my first license, lost track of it over the years.
    You should definitely dig deep in your research on the RV issue, it may be a tax source that should rightfully be accessed.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.04.19

    Unfortunately, Jim, I don't think there's any tax bonanza to be had from these RVers. As a mobile group with no ties to the state, they can change their residence at the drop of a tax break. Without an income tax, we can only capture their wealth through vehicle registration fees and drivers license fees. With an income tax, they all switch to Texas.

  12. Nick Nemec 2011.04.20

    There is no tax bonanza to be had from the RVers and no reason to cater to them. I say jack up the registration fees on those RVs and if it is too much for them they can establish their fake addresses someplace else. They have minimal positive impact on the host communities.

  13. alain smithee 2012.07.20

    I tangled with my local DMV over this issue when I called them to find out what documents I needed to bring to renew my driver's license.

    When I stated that the person I spoke with on the phone said "birth certificate", and not "government issued birth certificate", I was told that "everyone knows" that hospital birth certificates were invalidated by the (un)Patriot(ic) Act.

    I projected my voice and stated that this was an assumption, and that we all know the story about assumptions.

    I then had to ride a bicycle to the next county in the rain (license expired the day I was trying to renew it) to get a government issued birth certificate.

    Luckily, I had gone to school with the health department clerk, because the health department required a valid driver's license in order to get a copy of your birth certificate.

    We have Dubya and Darth Vader (Dick Cheney) to thank for the (un)Patriot(ic) act and it's unintended consequences.

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