JEFFERSON PARK — Barring any last-minute changes, the Illinois Secretary of State will reopen its drivers services facilities Jan. 5.
They were closed for the second time during the pandemic in November by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who determined it was the safe thing to do for workers and customers, said spokesman Dave Druker.
Currently, only two facilities are open in Chicago: one on the South Side at 9901 S. Dr. Martin King Jr. Drive and one on the North Side at 5401 N. Elston Ave., but both facilities are only open for new driver’s licenses. Permits will have to wait until after Jan. 5.
“The concept of this is that new drivers would add to the economy and be able to drive to their jobs and do grocery and pharmaceutical pickups for their parents,” Druker said. He said commercial driver’s licenses are being processed at those facilities because they are regulated by the federal government.
Druker said that even though most facilities are closed, all Secretary of State employees are working and being paid. He said the employees are working to process the many services that have moved online, including renewing license plate stickers, renewing driver’s licenses for qualified drivers, renewing a state ID card, obtaining a driver record abstract and filing business services documents such as incorporations and annual reports.
Earlier this year, the Secretary of State facilities were closed from March 17-June 1. Once reopened, customers waited hours for services.
Downers Grove resident Kristi Kucera went to a facility in Naperville to get a new license after her purse was stolen and learned people were waiting several hours.
“I got there at noon but people waiting outside told me they had been there since 5 a.m.,” Kucera said. “It was hot outside so I left and brought back a couple cases of water, and then went home.”
Kucera said she then ventured to a facility in Morris, more than an hour from her home, and waited four hours before getting her license.
Uptown resident Nicole McBride also lost her license recently and discovered that the facilities were currently closed.
“It’s kind of crazy that it’s not considered an essential service,” McBride said.
Druker did not have the numbers of employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, but said someone in McBride’s situation can get a new copy of their license online.
For Northwestern professor Steven Thrasher, trying to get an Illinois license since moving from New York has been an exercise in futility this year.
“I relocated to Illinois from New York and had wanted to get an Illinois driver’s license. Especially with everything going on with voting, I wanted an ID from the state where I lived,” Thrasher wrote in an email. “I checked the website in advance to find a place near my office near the Loop. But when I arrived, it had been closed for some time for the pandemic — though nothing was said about this on the website.
“I was told to go to a location 7 miles away. I don’t own a car and so I arranged to take a 1/2 day off from work. But it took almost two hours to get to the site on public transit, and when I arrived, there were easily 400 or 500 people in line — clearly, I wouldn’t get through. So I took a THIRD day off from work, this time renting a Zipcar, and driving there with a plan to arrive an hour before opening so I could get on line early. But, when I arrived, I didn’t know ALL DMVs had been shuttered the night before, due to the pandemic.
“There was a sign saying if your driver’s license expired, not to worry, it would be extended. But this is suspect. I am lucky, I do have a legal license from another state, and I don’t drive often. But it seems really unfair that there are people whose licenses are expiring — what if the police pull them over?”
To that, Druker said expired licenses are good for another year and one will not be ticketed in or outside Illinois by police, Druker said.
“We’ve reached out to law enforcement and a number of states are doing the same thing. That license is good by Illinois law for other states as well, and is good with the TSA so you can fly with it also,” Druker said.
He said the reason for the long lines over the summer was a backlog of work and a limited number of workers because of social distancing requirements. He also noted that even if social distancing requirements didn’t limit them from bringing on additional staff, the office’s budget is set by the state’s general assembly and there is no leeway for expanding staff.
Druker said once they reopen January 5 — tentatively — there likely will be long lines again. He urged drivers to check the Secretary of State’s website to see if they can get what they need online and reduce the line.
“Part of the issue also is the social distancing at the facilities,” Druker said. “There’s fewer people working there because they need to be distanced. We took the extra employees and had them work the lines outside to help maintain social distancing and bring in seniors and people with disabilities who go to the front of the line.
“When we reopened June 1 there were 2.3 million registration stickers that were done and about 1.5 million driver’s licenses. This is the first pandemic in 100 years. I wish they could be running as smoothly as possible but these are extraordinary times. We really are trying to do our best.”