My mother voted for Barrack Obama in 2008 at age 95. It was the first time she had voted in a presidential election since becoming fed up with politics after 1972. She registered and voted in 2008 without fanfare and certainly no hassle.
My mother worked 25 years in a factory after a bitter divorce and being left in the summer of 1951 with two young sons, no job, no income, and no place to live. She did what she had to do in those times. She gritted her teeth, moved from Missouri to her parents home in Wabash, Indiana, got a job making $40 a week and proceeded in her determination to see her sons never had to suffer the pain and humiliation she was experiencing.
That job eventually ruined her health and her hearing. She did it job better than anyone else. Her reward was being paid half as much as her male co-workers doing the same job, but she received the benefit of having to suffer the mental and physical harassment from those same males, sexual or otherwise. She learned to handle herself in this male dominated culture and earned their respect. Of course it was never expressed where it counted, in pay.
Politically she was, like my maternal grandfather, independent. She leaned to Democrats because they were the only party interested in helping people like her who were, because she was divorced and a single mother, cast offs economically, politically, socially and by her own church. The America of the early 1950s was a different place. There was no place for single divorcees and single parent households.
My mother voted in every election through the 1972 presidential election. My family taught that voting was a civic duty and a responsibility of citizenship. There was not excuse for not voting. What happened in and after the 1972 election sickened her of both politics and politicians. She was fed up and done with politicians. But In 2008 at age 95, moved by hope and change offered by Barrack Obama and frightened by Republican John McCain, she reversed her long voting absence, registering and voting, and, as noted earlier, she didn’t have any difficulty doing so. She filled out the information on the voter registration card, sent it to the election board and received her registration and later requested, received and used an absentee ballot to cast her vote. That should be the end of the story, but it isn’t because Indiana enacted a voter ID law that received U.S. Supreme Court blessing in 2008 that changed the landscape, not only for voting, but also for other things, including applying for and getting a state issued picture ID card.
My mother doesn’t possess a lot of material assets. Her income consists of social security benefits and a small pension from her former employer (Honeywell) that was vastly reduced because she was forced to retire early due to injuries received doing their work. She has enough to exist, but hardly enough to live. Some years ago as a means of helping her maintain her own household and live independently she applied for and qualified for Section 8 Housing Assistance. The amount of rental assistance this program provided (less than half her rent) was enough to make the difference for her to live in modest comfort on her own.
In the spring of 2010 mother made her annual pilgrimage to the local Housing Authority office to sign papers and listen to the bureaucratic pontification required for her to remain in the program. A week later she received notice the Indiana driver’s license she had been using for an identification card had expired and she would have to provide a new up-to-date one to prove her identity. All she needed to do, they said, was go to the local Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch, provide the necessary documents to attest she was who she claimed to be and receive a new one.
So I gathered documents, loaded her into my car and off we went to the BMV. When we finally got to the window for someone to assist, we learned that to get a state issued picture ID Mom would need her birth certificate. I tried, but to no avail, to inform the clerk that in many Indiana counties birth records were not recorded until well into the 20th century. She replied, her nose elevating with each word, “you must present a valid birth certificate from the county of her birth.”
A bit later I discovered she did have a birth certificate, but there was a slight glitch. A cousin, who lived in Adams County (Decatur), Indiana, had gone to the local courthouse several years ago and secured a copy for her. However, the date of birth on the certificate read September 20, 1913 and my mother was born on September 19, 1913. Mom, I discovered, had simply crossed out the incorrect date and written in the correct one. I knew this would not pass muster so I again loaded her in my car and off to Decatur we went. It is only about 20 miles from Fort Wayne, so it took about a half hour to get there and a few more minutes to find the building where the county health department was located.
Some how I was able to get mom up to the second floor office (she wears a pacemaker and going up stairs is difficult) and waited until an older lady inquired as to our business. I explained the situation and we were able to quickly locate the record of her birth as written by the doctor who assisted in her delivery. There in black and white was my mother’s birth recorded as September 20, 1913. The good doctor hadn’t gotten the day right! We knew my mother was born on the 19th because this is what her father recorded, and her mother and two older sisters told her. This is what the whole family told her, and who would know better?
I asked the two very sympathetic clerks, “How do we correct the date and get a valid birth certificate for my mother?” The clerk said she needed to provide two old documents showing her birthday as September 19, 1913, and two other forms of identification. I took mom home and then scoured her records, which she had entrusted to me for safekeeping. I was able to find two old insurance documents dating from about 1950 with her proper birthday and other vital information listed.
In the meantime, since she was not going to have her state picture ID to satisfy the Housing Authority deadline, I first stopped there and informed them it would take time to secure all the documents. They threatened to remove her from the program, but seeing the fire in my eyes and after demanding to speak to their superior they relented and suggested I provide it as soon as mother was able to get one.
The next day I again loaded mother back into the car and drove with her to Decatur for a second time and helped her climb the steps to the second floor office of the Health Department. (Later I discovered there was an elevator that had been added to this old high school building turned county offices, but was at the far end and not well marked.) We provided the documents to the clerk and she made the correction to the record adding the necessary notations, made copies of our documents for their records, and a new birth certificate was issued. We could now go back to the BMV and get mom a state issued picture ID! Well, yes and no.
Next day I picked up mom and went to the BMV loaded with documents, utility bills and a new official birth certificate. However the stern faced clerk quickly informed us our information was incomplete and some unacceptable. We were told in addition to the birth certificate and the recently paid utility bills she would also have to provide a copy of her marriage license! “Huh”? I’m sure my mouth was wide open in amazement. I was stunned.
“You must have a copy of her marriage license to prove her name changed,” the stern-face BMV clerk explained. “You’ll have to contact the county where she was married to get a copy before we can proceed,” she said calmly. I’m sure she had been here many times before. I also had in my possession a number of ID’s from the past, including one issued by the State of Indiana with her social security number (another requirement) clearly in view, but it was declined because it was out of date!! They declined to recognize her recently expired Indiana Driver’s License with her picture on it because it was expired (by a couple months). I guess you can’t be too careful about these things. You never know from what quarter a terrorist, criminal or fraudulent voter might appear.
I did my best to explain the problem to my mother, loading her back into the car and taking her back to her apartment. I went home and called Wabash County Health Department in Wabash, Indiana where my mother was married and they directed me to the proper person who said I would need to send a letter and a small fee to get a copy of the marriage license. I did as asked and in a couple days had the new copy.
I again put mother into my car and drove to the BMV. This time I was sure we were properly prepared, having all the required documents. We went through the formalities of getting a number and waiting to be called. When that finally happened the lady took much time and examined each piece of information, each word, each sentence, as if it were of the highest import and vital to get right. It was examined as if every word and every letter might be hiding a secret code. After some moments she summoned her supervisor who also scrutinized the documents, examining each as if it were contained top-secret information vital to our nation’s security. Being the supervisor, she was required to bless each transaction as part of the process of making certain no falsification occurred. You can’t be too careful who you trust these days! A 97-year-old woman might be part of a sleeper cell or a front for voter fraud.
One document seemed to have attracted their attention and both spent some time examining and conferring on it. It was my mother’s marriage license! I soon learned her first name was spelled DELORES on the marriage license while the correct spelling on her birth certificate was DOLORES. By this time my blood was boiling, my face was red, and my eyes filled with fire. I know this because the supervisor turned and looked at me as if she was going to say something and then seeing my face, paused, and gave the document her blessing and quickly departed.
This was the end, right? No it wasn’t. Next mom had to have her picture taken. My mother was 97 years old at the time and standing for any length of time was difficult. Her eyesight, hearing and body strength were failing, but her mind was and is crystal clear and sharp! They made her stand while they took her picture SEVEN times, saying each time that something was wrong and they had to do it over, which was a blatant falsehood! The new picture ID contains more than the picture you can see. By the last picture my mother had lost all patience. I knew she was about to unload several rounds of verbal buckshot when they finally said, “Finished”. We returned to the person processing the papers and after signing a couple application documents and receiving a sincere apology from the clerk, we left, but not with a new ID. Oh no, no, no. Those can only be issued from Indianapolis. The State of Indiana does not allow BMV branches to complete these very critical and important tasks. They are not to be trusted. Only Indianapolis has the proper knowledge and expertise to do this.
This is a picture of what it is like to secure a state issued picture ID card in Indiana. The voter ID law was passed with one purpose and only one purpose in mind-get around existing law to limit who votes and deny the elderly, poor, and minority voters their constitutional rights. It is a modern form of a poll tax. It is a mark of shame upon us all. But sadly, those responsible are not bothered by the shame. They wear it like a badge of honor.