The DMV needs an overhaul

Ah, the Department of Motor Vehicles: everybody’s stereotype of a complacent, hidebound bureaucracy, where the lines are long and the staff’s hostility is held in check by its somnolence.

The image is unfair to the reality. The DMV has made strides to enter, if not the 21st Century, at least the late 20th. But now it faces new challenges not of its own making, and there needs to be a shakeup in its future.

Among those challenges: responsibility for voter registration which it seems to be fumbling, and an attitude toward the new driver’s privilege cards that seems to have awakened the inner Barney Fife in some DMV employees.

First, a reminder that the DMV’s carelessness led to a bit of controversy regarding State House candidate Adam DesLauriers. There were questions about whether he’d lived in his district for the required one full year — and the root cause, per the man hinself, was the DMV.

I moved here to Washington (Orange county) exactly a year ago now, last summer.  I changed my address with the DMV when we first moved, and on their web site they offer to change your voter registration simultaneously – which I did.  But when I actually went to vote in the [presidential] primary, I discovered I was still registered in Bolton and it had never gone through!

That’s only one man’s experience, but it’s backed up by a June report in the Burlington Free Press, which had the League of Women Voters raising serious concerns about the DMV’s handling of voter registrations.

After Town Meeting Day, the League began hearing stories about town clerks being unable to find some voters who had registered through the Department of Motor Vehicles on their checklists. After polling Chittenden County clerks, the League found more than 600 cases of voters not being on the rolls, Schuyler said.

Not good. Not good at all. Especially since the DMV is about to take on a new responsibility in this area: starting in 2017, everyone who gets a driver’s license or official state ID card from the DMV is supposed to be automatically registered as a voter. The DMV will have to step up its game, and quickly; the Free Press quotes Will Senning, the Secretary of State’s Director of Elections, as saying the DMV’s processing of voter registrations “has been an issue for years.”

Well, if the DMV wondered why they’re the butt of everyone’s bureaucracy jokes, there’s a good example.

And now we’ve got a much more serious issue with the DMV, one that may have put an unknown number of undocumented immigrants on a path to deportation. VTDigger reported earlier this week that the DMV has frequently reported privilege card applicants to federal immigration authorities, and worked in close cooperation with immigration agents.

The intent of creating driver’s privilege cards was precisely the opposite — giving undocumented residents a way to drive legally without imperiling their residency. But a trove of internal emails obtained by VTDigger shows that many DMV staffers were acting like an informal posse for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Take the DMV detective who wrote about notifying ICE whenever an undocumented person (well, he called them “aliens,” which reveals a mindset) scheduled an appointment at the DMV. Thus giving ICE a gift-wrapped “alien” to take into custody. That same detective emailed another DMV staffer that “we are being over run (sic) by immigrants.”

Unbiased much?

There are also cases of DMV office staff reporting applicants to DMV investigators for no apparent reason besides the applicants’ ethnicity. Earlier this year, the Department settled a Human Rights Commission case involving a Jordanian man who made proper application, with correct identification, for a driver’s privilege card. Even so, an office staffer reported him to DMV investigators, who then reported him to ICE, triggering a deportation proceeding.

The man was originally from Jordan, and that appears to be the only thing that got him in trouble.

So we’ve got the DMV acting as an informal information pipeline to ICE, leading to we don’t know how many potential deportations that wouldn’t have happened if the immigrants hadn’t applied for driver’s privilege cards.

The DMV rightly points out that this is a whole new area for them. They say they’ve made improvements in their training and processes and no longer routinely refer information to ICE.

I have some sympathy for DMV, which has been saddled with new responsibilities beyond the purview of a sleepy little corner of state bureaucracy. But those new responsibilities are here, and they’re growing, and the DMV had better get its act together.

And to judge by statements from DMV Director Robert Ide, making the needed reforms will require a change at the top.

Regarding the Jordanian immigrant who went through a two-year ICE investigation because of his agency, Ide said “I don’t think anyone intentionally set out to make his life difficult.”



You put the man through the closest thing our government has to a Kafkaesque nightmare, and you think that “difficult” is an accurate descriptor?

Spoken like a white male citizen. And an overly comfortable bureaucrat more interested in covering his agency’s ass than in righting a wrong.

And then there’s his reaction to the Human Rights Commission ruling:

“I don’t think it significantly changes how we do things, but I think it adds some clarity, and it adds clarity for our counter workers too.”

Oh, but Mr. Ide, surely it OUGHT to “significantly change how we do things,” because how you do things has been discriminatory, at odds with the intent of the law, and resulted in tremendous “difficulty” for who knows how many people.

If it hasn’t significantly changed how you do things, then I think we need a significant change in leadership at the DMV.



5 thoughts on “The DMV needs an overhaul

  1. bobzeliff

    It is all too easy to slur government workers, after all they can NOT respond!! They are a safe easy target for some journalists!!
    I am not forgiving any errors DMV may have made.
    However my personal experience in the last couple of years in getting a plate for my old home made trailer and getting a veterans plate for my motorcycle, in both cases my request was curiously finished in minutes. Thank you DMV

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Well, hooray. The DMV can handle white people’s business without issue. C’mon, now. My interactions with the DMV are much like yours, painless and trouble-free. But the problems with voter registrations and immigrant applications are well and widely documented.

  2. Mark Trigo

    I have one issue with this entry. You automatically attribute bias to the DMV detective’s statement that, “we are being over run (sic) by immigrants.”

    This was in fact very true. As you know by reading the VTDigger article, there was a legitimate problem of undocumented immigrants with absolutely no connection to Vermont attempting to obtain a Vermont driver ID.

    The simple reality is that this program is a Vermont program designed to address the needs of Vermont undocumented immigrants. It is not fair to automatically attribute malice to a DMV employee solely for expressing concern over fraud occurring within the system.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      You focus on that one statement, but this was the same detective that referred to “aliens” and made a habit of turning over all available information to ICE. That might be malice or merely overzealousness, but either way, the actions of him and some of his colleagues were contradictory to the intent of the privilege-card program.

      1. Mark Trigo

        Uh… no. You were the one who focused on this statement, to the point that you quoted it verbatim. And the reality is that this single statement was very justifiable. It may not change the overall premise, but this was a rotten carrot in an otherwise tasty stew that you cooked up.

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