Saturday, September 23, 2006

The DMV & The Draft


Unknowingly filling out Form 447-SEL at the DMV is prematurely registering your 13 to 17-year-old for Selective Service in order to “save you time.”

By Corey Hutchins

The form looks standard enough. Stapled to Information Sheet IS-DL-100, Form 447-SEL is a one page, four-part questionnaire that looks as benign and innocuous as any other standard issue document snowballed at you while at the DMV. But—as should be the slogan for most governmental bureaucracy— the Devil is in the details.

When a male between the ages of 13 and 17 applies for an S.C. identification card, beginner’s permit or driver’s license, either he or his parents will be asked to fill out this form with the words “Selective Service Requirements” at the top in all capital letters. And while the DMV will call it “ just saving you time,” what they won’t call it is what it really is, a premature registration for the draft. The DMV is right about one thing, however, if you filled out Form 447-SEL for your child when he was between 13 and 17 it certainly will save him time— in registering for the draft that is— because once he turns 18, the DMV has already sent in his application.

Sound unrealistic? Tell that to Clayton Ingram. Friday, Sept. 1, Ingram picked up his 15-year-old son Dillon from school and drove him to the Department of Motor Vehicles building on Shop Road in Columbia. They had everything in order for Dillon to get his beginner’s permit, something the two had been planning for months but had only recently found the time to do together. Passport: check. Student identification card: check. Social Security card and original birth certificate: check and check. The line was short that day and Dillon, average height with long brown hair and the beginnings of a patchy goatee, was anxious to fill out the forms needed before taking the computerized test, completing his first step to eventually getting his driver’s license and earning that newfound freedom his country was about to give him. Little did he know that only minutes later his father, noticing what Dillon was about to sign, would show him very clearly a serious freedom he was unknowingly about to give up. Among the sheaf of papers the 15-year-old had to sign during the application process was a single page titled Form 447-SEL. Once signed, Ingram saw, 447-SEL would automatically register Dillon with the United States Selective Service upon his 18th birthday. Ingram was shocked.

He explained to the teller that his son was only 15 years old and told her Dillon would decide whether or not he would to make the decision to sign up for the Selective Service when he turned 18— but not a day before. According to Ingram, the teller told him it was mandatory. “To get a permit or a license,” the teller said, “you must first register with the Selective Service.” Ingram said a manager reiterated the same dizzying refrain. “I’ve checked with my supervisor and checked with the helpline,” the manager said according to Ingram. “And this is required; you have to do this.”

Stunned, Ingram took the paper in his hands and began reading. Sure enough, there it was.

“Section 56-1-125 of the South Carolina Code of Law,” the document reads, “requires a male citizen or immigrant who is less than 26 years of age to register for the United States Selective Service when applying to the Department of Motor Vehicles for the issuance of a credential.” Further examination of Form 447-SEL reveals that applicants as young as age 13 can have a parent or legal guardian sign the supplemental application form indicating they have been informed that when the applicant reaches the age of 18, the department will forward the information to the United States Selective Service unless he physically surrenders all beginner’s permit, driver’s license and identification cards issued by the state of South Carolina to the DMV prior to his 18th birthday.

“I went nuts,” Ingram said upon learning that in order for his son to get his beginner’s permit, Ingram would have to essentially sign him up for the Selective Service at the young age of 15.

“I saw that [form] and I didn’t even touch it,” he said. “I am not registering my son for the draft.” Then he looked at Dillon. “This registers you for the draft,” he told him. “We might not be able to get your license today.”

“That’s fine with me,” Dillon said.

But Ingram wasn’t satisfied. He asked to see the law, the specific statute that allowed the state of South Carolina to mandate all 13 to 17-year-olds fill out an application form to be forwarded to the Selective Service upon their 18th birthday in order to obtain a valid S.C. identification card.

While his son took the computerized test that would allow him his permit, Ingram pored over a copy of the law a manager had provided for him. “I read it and I was dumbstruck,” he said, “because I seriously didn’t believe they could do this. But reading it, it looked like maybe they could. If it’s in the law, it may not be right, but it’s the law.”

To make sure Ingram had a correct copy of the law he phoned his wife and had her check the statute online and the two of them read both copies together. It was then, Ingram said, that he found something at the very end, a phrase reading, “The applicant, parent or guardian may refuse or decline the Selective Service System registration. If the applicant, parent or guardian declines Selective Service system registration the department may issue a license or identification card but the applicant must renew the license or identification card upon 18 years of age.” So, signing Form 447-SEL was not mandatory after all.

After pointing out that section of the law, the part showing Ingram could opt out of singing the form if he chose, the manager OK’d Dillon for his beginner’s permit after he passed the computerized test.

“He came out and gave me the thumbs up,” Ingram said, and Dillon was issued his permit without having to prematurely sign up for the Selective Service three years before he would have to make that personal decision himself. Clayton Ingram said he’s been telling people about what happened and no one can believe it. “I’m sure it sounds sort of incredulous that this could happen the way I say it is,” he said, “but it is.”

When City Paper asked if it was standard practice for tellers at the DMV to inform applicants of their right to decline signing Form 447-SEL, Beth Parks, a spokeswoman for the SCDMV said “I don’t know if singing the form is mandatory or not. Generally they are just given [Form 447-SEL] along with the other forms.” City Paper then asked Patty Hartley, the manager who personally handled Ingram’s specific complaint, if she believed all applicants under the age of 18 were required to fill out 447-SEL in order to get an S.C. ID but Hartley said she “really couldn’t get involved.”

Parks later confirmed that the law does say the applicant can decline to sign the form but also said it had been only recently that she herself became aware of it. “I did not know until today,” she said and also agreed the law is difficult to understand.

One DMV teller commenting on the condition of anonymity said she doesn’t even give out the form anymore because it’s too much of a hassle. “It’s too much of a hassle to say the least,” she said. “I figure it’s the law [the applicants] should register anyway.”

And though Parks initially said she was “not familiar” with the official process of how teller’s administer Form 447-SEL to applicants, she did say, “No one should be made to feel they should register [for the Selective Service],” but also offered that doing so would save them time later on. Parks also insisted that Form 447-SEL is not actually a registration for the draft but is only an application, one that upon the applicant’s 18th birthday will be automatically filed with the U.S. government, registering him for Selective Service.

For Ingram, that’s just the problem.
“I don’t think people know what they’re signing and the ramifications of it at all,” he said. “When you’re in there and they hand you a parental consent form, you sign it. I mean nobody’s going to say ‘go get your law book and let’s sit down and read it.’”

Though the draft, or “conscription” as it’s officially called, ended in 1973, the Selective Service has remained in place with young men required to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday so a draft could more easily be put back into effect if needed. The same decade the draft ended activists set fire to the dean’s office on the USC campus in an attempt to destroy draft records. A November 2002 article in The State newspaper listed South Carolina as the 47th state in the U.S. in the percentage of young men who had complied with the draft law and quoted Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston) saying, “I guess the DMV doesn’t see any threat of war.”

That, of course, was before Section 56-1-125 was established allowing the state to give driver’s license information to the Selective Service. The same article went on to say that the Selective Service would be paying the DMV $10,000 for its compliance.

In 2000, Delaware became the first state to enact driver’s license registration legislation and the Selective Service System’s official Web site shows 35 states (including South Carolina) and three territories have since gotten on board with similar programs as of August 2005.

In January 2003, N.Y. Rep. Charles Rangel introduced a bill to Congress to reinstate the draft and a March 2005 article in Washington Monthly all but called for a modernized draft as the only way to bolster military manpower as the United States continues to ship troops overseas.

Ingram himself believes a new draft could come as early as six months from now and calls the issue a “sensitive subject.” His father, a fairly well known civic leader in South Carolina, served in the Navy in WWII and was both anti-war and anti-draft. In 1980, the year registration was actually re-instated, Ingram says he remembers clearly the day his father took him aside and said, “let’s take a walk down on the waterfront and talk.” His father said that since Clayton was now 18 and the country had instituted the draft registration again, what would he do? “I thought about it,” Ingram said, “because I’d been avoiding it and avoiding it and I said ‘you know what? If I don’t register they’ll probably put me in jail. So I’m going to register and if my country is invaded I’ll defend it but I’m not going to fight a war of aggression,’ and [my father] said ‘that’s your decision,’ and he left it with me.”

Ingram wished to do the same for his son Dillon, in leaving the serious decision of whether or not to register for Selective Service, up to him when he turns 18 and not signing Form 447-SEL for him three years prior. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in three years. Hell, I never expected [the United States] to be in this situation three years ago,” he said. “In three years [Dillon] is going to have to make his own decision. He can fight the law, he can work to change it, he can comply with it, he can not comply with it and suffer whatever consequence comes. Or he can leave, that’s his decision.”

All Ingram wants is people to know they don’t have to fill out the form given to them at the DMV if they don’t want to, no matter what the teller or manager may say.

“This thing with the registration for Selective Service has already gone so far…people are uninformed and if people really understood what was happening they would be really upset,” he said.

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