North Carolina’s new voter ID law goes into effect for the first time during the March 15 primary, and 218,000 registered voters do not have an acceptable form of government-issued ID now required to vote.
Ethelene Douglas, an 85-year-old African-American woman who grew up in the segregated South and first registered to vote in 1964, was one of them. Her struggle to obtain the necessary ID vividly illustrates the problems with the law.
In September 2012, Douglas’s niece, Clara Quick, took her to the DMV in Laurinburg, North Carolina, to get a state photo ID. Douglas was told she needed a copy of her birth certificate to get an ID. So they traveled across the state line to Dillon, South Carolina, where Douglas was born, to find her birth certificate. But the government office there said she needed a photo ID to get a birth certificate, and Douglas was caught in a seemingly unresolvable catch-22. (This account comes from an affidavit Quick filed in federal court.)
Her niece called the South Carolina’s Vital Records office, paid $17 for an expedited birth certificate, but still couldn’t get one. Instead, she was told to find her aunt’s marriage certificate, which was in Bennettsville, South Carolina. After getting that, they made a second trip to the North Carolina DMV, but were once again told Douglas couldn’t get a photo ID because she didn’t have a birth certificate.
They were so frustrated that they gave up trying for a time. In the fall of 2013, after North Carolina passed the voter ID law, they made a third trip to the DMV. An employee told Quick to get a census report to confirm her aunt’s identify, which she purchased for $69. Quick brought her aunt’s census report, marriage certificate, Social Security card, and utility bill during a fourth trip to the DMV in September 2014 and was finally able to get her the photo ID needed to vote.
It took two years, four trips to the DMV, two trips to South Carolina, and $86 in government documents for an 85-year-old woman to continue to vote. Quick called it “an absolute nightmare. There are other voters out there that do not have the money, time, access to transportation, and family assistance to obtain a NCDMV photo ID. It should not be this difficult to obtain an ID for voting.”
Douglas’s story is all too familiar these days. In recent weeks, I’ve written about 94-year-old Rosanell Eaton, who had to recite the Preamble to the Constitution from memory to register to vote in Jim Crow North Carolina during the 1940s and had to make 11 trips to different state agencies in 2015 to comply with the new law. And 86-year-old Reba Bowser, a Republican voter since the Eisenhower era, whose voter ID application was initially rejected despite the fact that she presented an expired New Hampshire driver’s license, two different birth certificates, a Social Security card, a Medicare card, and her apartment lease to the DMV.