My now 90-year-old mother moved to Germantown, Tennessee in 2018. She registered to vote soon after.
In 2020, while COVID-19 wreaked havoc, I helped her get permanent absentee voter status and her Arkansas driver’s license expired. The Election Commission says they mail out ballot applications to permanent absentees, voters mail the applications back, the Commission mails the actual ballots and finally, voters return their ballots.
In fact, my mom has never gotten an application without requesting it. After mailing her August 2020 ballot, she got a letter saying it arrived too late to be counted.
In the November 2020 election, she voted in person, provisionally, without an ID. Then, when I took her to the Little Clinic at Kroger this spring, they wouldn’t see her because she didn’t have a valid ID.
On May 4, we went to the Driver Services Center around 2 p.m. with my mom’s documents, but the clerk said they needed her birth certificate and marriage license. So we went home and ordered copies of her vital records, which cost about $50.
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It was like going to see the 'Wizard of Oz'
We went back to the Driver Services Center on July 14 with all the necessary papers. A different clerk asked if we had an appointment.
He said they were too busy; we should come back early the next day or try another center. Doesn't this remind you of that scene in the "Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy finally arrives at the doors of Oz?
We took I-40 out to Oakland, Tennessee− which is about 40 minutes away− thinking that might work. But at 3:30 p.m. they said we were too late, they close at 5:00 p.m. So we got Frosties at Wendy’s instead.
We wondered: what if we didn't have a car or had to take off from work to make these trips? What if she didn’t have me to help or the money or persistence that this was requiring?
From working with high school students, I had learned that it's extremely hard to get an ID without money, a birth certificate and a parent to drive you. But sometimes even that’s not enough.
I went home and re-read every word about voting at tn.gov. I found a heading I hadn’t seen before: "Voter ID Only,” describing a new law that allows citizens who are already registered to vote to receive "express service" and get a photo ID at no cost to them. I printed out the page.
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How we finally got it resolved
We returned to Driver’s Services on July 26, the clerk insisted that express service did not apply to people without licenses. We would have to come back early the next morning. I told her that we couldn’t get there before 10 a.m., and she handed me her name and booth number on a piece of scrap paper; she would be there.
I grasped that golden ticket and told family and friends to pray. At 10:10 a.m. on July 27, we located our clerk.
She processed the papers, took my mom’s photo and said, “That will be $12.” My mother pulled out her Visa, knowing not to rock the boat, and got her temporary ID.
We’re happy to have the ID now, but why weren't the people at Driver's Services observing this new law?
I was tempted to post a picture of her new ID on social media, but of course I didn't. We don’t want to go back down the trail of identity theft, which we’ve already traveled twice.
Bonnie Barnes retired in 2021 as library director at Memphis University School.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: My mother's quest for an official government issued photo ID