- Category: News
18 Aug 2011
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
The New Tri-State Defender was first to report last month that some Memphians at the driver’s license center at 6340 Summer Ave, had to wait four to five hours to get their drivers licenses and state-sanctioned photo ids, while in some predominantly white counties customers waited on average 20 minutes or less.
Since then, bloggers, newspapers and commentators across the nation have added their voices to a chorus of complaints. Starting in 2012, Tennessee’s new photo ID law will require voters to have photo ids to cast a ballot. Acceptable forms of identification will include passports, state military ids and state identification cards, which will be processed by the overwhelmed driver’s license centers.
In Nashville, a Tennessean reporter recently found customers at the Hart Lane Center had to wait 90 minutes or longer just to get to the desk where service tickets are dispatched. The New Tri-State Defender reported patrons waited nearly three hours to reach the service desk at Summer Avenue. Tennessee officials do not begin to monitor and track wait times until customers receive a service ticket number at the desk. Once customers get the ticket, they wait, on average, an additional 50 minutes.
The Department of Safety also launched a pilot program in Davidson County to reduce waits. It hopes to reduce the amount of time Tennesseans spend in driver service centers from the current average of about 50 minutes to less than 30 minutes, the Tennessean reported.
Five of the 10 service centers with longest wait times are in Shelby County and Davidson County which, together, are home to 62 percent of the state’s African-American residents.
The Whitehaven driver service center, which reopened in May at 3200 East Shelby Drive following an expansion, ranks third on that list – with the third longest wait time in the state.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen has sent his letter to the U.S. Justice Department asking officials to determine if the wide differences in wait times in predominantly black and predominantly white counties might constitute a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
“I know the average length of time many citizens wait at most Driver Service Centers is unacceptable,” she said. “I am ready for this challenge and look forward to working with the employees of the division.”
Since the Tri-State Defender reported the problems a month ago:
• The administration of Gov. Bill Haslam said it is developing a plan to improve the efficiency of driver’s license centers and reduce wait times.
• State officials erected tents outside the Memphis centers to protect people waiting in lines outdoor from the hot sun. The State also assigned employees to hand out bottled water and check to ensure people have the right documentation.
• To help reduce the wait time for voters who need government-issued photo IDs, the state announced citizens will be placed in the "express service" category when entering a Driver Service Center.
• Hours have been expanded at drivers’ license centers, which now are open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.