- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

ELLSWORTH, Kan. (AP) — Federal law will make county Treasurer Paula Schneider do something that is considered plain rude on the streets of this little town — Treat friends as strangers.

Never mind that she knows nearly everyone who walks into her office and wants a driver’s license. Under the Real ID Act, which is meant to deter terrorists, Miss Schneider will have to make neighbors prove who they are.

Homeland security is taking a toll on the homespun way of doing things at government offices like hers.

The law will require people to come up with more papers attesting to their identity and citizenship status before they get a driver’s license. States say this will drive up costs and lengthen lines at motor vehicle offices.

Miss Schneider anticipates headaches and hard feelings.

“We’ll have unhappy people,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘You know me.’”

People in bigger places are accustomed to impersonal take-a-number processing at their driver’s license office. Not so in Ellsworth, a central Kansas town of 2,100 residents.

Government business is done with a breezy informality.

“Right now, if somebody comes in who lost their license, we’ll write down their name and their birthday and go back there and see what we can find on the computer,” Miss Schneider said.

Under the changes, though, people will have to prove themselves several times over.

Asked how many of the people who come in the door she already knows, Miss Schneider said, “Most of them.” She paused and corrected herself. “All of them.”

In Ellsworth, people have little reason to carry identifying documents.

“A lot of people don’t know where their birth certificates are,” said clerk Geneva Spoon, who also deals with licenses.

Even so, local officials are more on their toes now because of the September 11 attacks.

Miss Spoon attended a seminar that taught her more about how to spot false identification. She pulls out a magnifying glass and shows how the signature line on a Social Security card is not the solid ink that it appears to be, but rather spells Social Security Administration repeatedly in letters too small for the naked eye.

That is just one of the devices meant to foil everyday forgers. But local officials are not confident that they can catch the most sophisticated fakes.

“In a big city, I’d be very particular,” Miss Spoon said, adding, “They’re better trained to know what’s false. We’re not on the front lines.”

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