Addressing Addresses the Illinois Way

Having moved house in Chicago recently, I decided that it would be prudent to update my address with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Neither a priority nor mandate, it was one of those tasks on the “to do” list, like vaccinations and getting the oil changed after 3,000 miles. The journey to a correct drivers license – and it most definitely was a journey – was an interesting experience in citizen-state interaction.

Updating the address for my vehicle registration was easily done, handled all on the web with a straightforward form to complete. A little more than a week later, the new registration arrived in the mail. A model of simplicity. It was a different story for the drivers license.

I prepared on the Illinois DMV website. It offers a template that illustrates the various types of acceptable documentation necessary to prove a new address for a drivers license. I printed it out, checked and rechecked, and determined that I was in good shape with my new vehicle registration and a new voter registration card. Next step was an in-person visit to a local DMV office.

A few years ago, during a financial crisis, Illinois closed several DMV offices. Accordingly, my choices of sites was somewhat limited. I found one reasonably close, though, and took a bike ride on a sunny Saturday to prove that I had a new address. Thirty minutes on the bicycle got me to the facility where I locked my bike and stood in line to talk with an official standing outside, directing people to different lines. Lots of folks were milling about, herded this way or that. The DMV official looked at me with surprise when I said that I wanted to update my address and I did not have an appointment. “You have to make an appointment! How didn’t you know this?” Somehow I missed that in my web preparations.

Later that day I logged into the DMV site and secured the next available slot at that site, only three weeks in the future. The morning of my visit, I checked out Google trips to see if it would be easier to drive or to bike. Ironically, the thirty-minute bike ride saved eleven minutes. I thought of the irony as I rode on the cloudy morning to the DMV.

When I arrived two officials were outside, directing the throng. When I stated that I had an appointment, showing the message on my phone, I was ushered in to a building. Not exactly like the VIP line at a club, but I was grateful. The first line had about eighteen people in it, all of us weaving back and forth to talk with one of several clerks at a counter. This initial function was set up to determine what task we were there to complete. Accordingly, I was next directed to the photo line, where I had but a short wait before getting an updated photo. The clerk indicated that I was looking pretty good for a cloudy morning.

From there, I was sent to a different line with but a short wait. The woman behind the desk looked at my documentation and commented that it was smart to have multiple documents. “You never know,” she opined. “It can be really difficult.”

We started talking. She’d worked for the DMV for many years. She liked the job, particularly because roles were rotated on a regular basis. Employees were cross-trained, from taking photos to doing driving tests. Most customers were well-behaved. Having the screeners out front helped, she said. That role was difficult. On the other hand, doing driving tests could be a lot of fun.

We were interrupted by a colleague. A few weeks back, an official from the Springfield Secretary of State‚Äôs Office visited. He had ideas, and the local employees were concerned. However, if you want to know why employee resignation has become a pressing issue in our workplace, it’s important to consider several factors.

A bit of background may help. For many years, Illinois’s Secretary of State was the charismatic Jesse White. He held the office for 24 years, deciding recently that seven terms was sufficient. White is a larger than life Illinois politico. A gifted athlete, White was a high-school stand out, a college phenom, and an Army veteran. He knew Martin Luther King, Jr., and in 1959 he created the Jesse White Tumblers, a group that has remained a staple at events around the state ever since. White was politically gifted, too, and he served in the state assembly and as Cook County Recorder of Deeds before becoming Secretary of State. For decades Jesse White has been a key figure in Illinois politics.

Stepping into White’s shoes has been Alexi Giannoulias. A financier with political ambitions, Giannoulias served as Illinois’s Treasurer before his election as Secretary of State. It has been clear, too, from the news that Giannoulias’s desire to advance and make a difference remains.

Back at the DMV site, employees were talking about this new initiative to dress them all in vests. The Springfield official decided that standard wear, along with name tags, would improve service and customer satisfaction. The employees on the other side of the counter were skeptical. On my side of the counter, I could not see how it would improve service. We talked a bit more about uniforms, working for larger systems, and office humor. I was sent to the next station.

The wait here was short. I presented my paperwork and was billed $5. With a little cash in my wallet, I paid and received a receipt. It was only a short step to the next station, where a clerk gathered my paperwork, reviewed it, and presented me with an updated paper drivers license. He punched a hole in my old drivers license, gave me both, and informed me that I would receive an updated license within two weeks. Six stations, many conversations, and I was on my way.

It’s been a week and I am still waiting for the updated license.

Jokes about DMV services aside, everyone I interacted with was pleasant, friendly and helpful. Fast or easy? Perhaps some room for improvement. But I have to give it to the staff – they made the visit memorable. I hope that the vests aren’t uncomfortable.

David Potash


Recently had an opportunity to hear Secretary of State Giannoulias speak. He’s very, very impressive. Count me as a fan.