96-Year-Old Black Woman Denied Voter ID in Tennessee

To apply for a photo ID—now required of voters under a new Tennessee law—96-year-old Dorothy Cooper gathered up a bunch of documents and took them all to her local photo ID office in Chattanooga. But a clerk said her docs didn't prove that her last name was really Cooper, and denied her application. Score one for the purity of the ballot box!

And score another point for anyone who supports keeping the poor, the disenfranchised, the elderly, and the brown-skinned away from the polls. The voter ID law was passed to stop voter fraud that never actually occurred. At least it's not partisan, right? ("T]he point of 'Voter ID' [is] to stop people you don't want voting-the poor, minorities, take your pick!—on a technicality," notes Wonkette. "This is how so many black Americans were denied the vote in the South for a hundred years after being 'emancipated.'")

Cooper told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that when she went to the photo ID place, she took her voter registration card, her lease, a rent receipt, and her birth certificate and showed them to the clerk. But her birth certificate had her maiden name on it, and the clerk wanted to see her marriage certificate, which had "Cooper" on it. The state's acceptable proof of identity page, which unnecessary capitalizes sooooo many words, does require applicants to prove any name changes "if Different than name on Primary ID"—in Cooper's case, her birth certificate. Cooper says she learned about the paperwork she'd have to present during a community meeting, so maybe she hadn't been told of this requirement. Or, perhaps the presenter didn't get to every nook and cranny of the list, which would take someone a while to read aloud.

There's also the issue that nobody, including state workers, seems to be totally clear on what the ID requirements actually mean. The Free Press reports that Charline Kilpatrick, who's been trying to help Tennesseans obtain voter IDs, called a state worker and told the person that Cooper needed to present her marriage certificate just so she could vote for some schlubs. "The lady laughed," Kilpatrick told the paper. "She said she's never heard of all that."

Now that Cooper's story made the Free Press's front page, state officials have been telling the media that they're trying to help her get her ID so she can vote. But even they can't (or won't?) provide definitive answers to questions about which docs Cooper must present, as this recent conversation between a Nashville Scene reporter and Jennifer Donnals, a spokeswoman for the state, illustrates:

Q: What are you doing about Dorothy Cooper?

Donnals: We have attempted to call her today and we've not been able to reach her yet. We want to make sure she understands what she needs to bring back to the driver service center, and we will work with her to get her a photo ID.

[...]

Q: What documents does she need?

Donnals: She needs to bring back a document that shows what her last name is. We're going to work with her to get that and get her a photo ID.

Donnals: We need to talk with her about what she has. We're going to be able to work with her to prove her citizenship. Once we talk to her, she should know what to bring.

Q: Do you concede that this clerk who initially dealt with Mrs. Cooper made a mistake?

Donnals: That situation could have been handled differently, yes.

Q: What does that mean?

Donnals: Well, the clerk was following policy for issuing photo IDs, but we think the clerk could have taken some extra steps to help this woman in this situation. But that is the policy. If someone comes in with the birth certificate that does not have their correct last name, then there needs to be some supporting document to prove that's her last name.

Q: She had an envelope full of documents.

Donnals: But those weren't acceptable documents under our policy.

Q: OK, what document does she need?

Donnals: We want to talk with her about what she has. Every situation is different.

A bunch of groups who don't support disenfranchising people have launched a petition to repeal the law. Meantime, the local administrator of elections says Cooper can vote by absentee ballot, which won't require a photo ID.

[Times Free Press, Nashville Scene, via Wonkette]