The incident underscores civil rights groups’ argument that new rules disenfranchise certain demographics.
Proponents of new and stricter voting regulations that have been implemented or are pending in Republican-led state legislatures around the nation have repeatedly argued that they are necessary to prevent ballot fraud. They also have dismissed claims by opponents of the measures that they will make it difficult for certain groups, minorities and the elderly in particular, to cast votes and seek to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
This week the latter group scored a point when Dorothy Cooper, 96, tried to comply with the new voter ID law in her home state of Tennessee on Tuesday and was denied the free identification card required to vote next year, the Chattanooga Free Times Press reports.
Armed with a rent receipt, a copy of her lease, her voter registration and her birth certificate, Cooper, a retired domestic worker who doesn’t drive, went to get the card at the Cherokee Boulevard Driver Service Center but was told she couldn’t get it because she didn’t have a copy of her marriage certificate to confirm her last name.
“It is department policy that in order to get a photo ID, a citizen must provide documentation that links their name to the document that they are using as primary proof of identity,” Tennessee Department of Safety spokesperson Dalya Quails told the publication in an email. “In this case, since Ms. Cooper’s birth certificate (her primary proof of identity) and voter registration card were two different names, the examiner was unable to provide the free ID.”
Quails added that, “the examiner should have taken extra steps to determine alternative forms of documentation for Ms. Cooper.”
Cooper has been casting ballots since her twenties and has voted in every election except one. She was unable to vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960 because a move from Georgia to Tennessee prevented her from registering in time. Another state worker suggested that she could vote with an absentee ballot, but Cooper said she would miss voting in person at the precinct located next door to her housing complex.
Democratic state Rep. Tommie Brown said that Cooper’s case exemplifies how the law disproportionately “erects barriers” to voting for the elderly and poor people.
Safety Department communications director Jennifer Donnals told Nashville Scene that her department has reached out to Cooper to help her resolve the situation and that the state wants to work with her, but she must still prove her last name.
“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 said.