Elderly Chattanooga woman denied voter ID
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - The General Assembly passed Tennessee's new voter ID law in the spring. After January first, all voters will have to show a picture ID at the polls.
The march presidential primaries are the first major test, so the state will begin an aggressive awareness campaign in the coming weeks. They will issue a free photo ID for anyone who says they can't afford one, but opponents say the new law presents a hardship for the poor and elderly, who may not have easy access to a DMV center.
A 96-year-old Chattanooga woman may just become the face of their mission.
Dorothy Cooper was born in 1915, five years before women earned the right to vote. So when she was of age she made sure her vote counted.
"Well, I want to get the right person in, to help others get the right person in," Cooper said.
Since 1933, Cooper has voted in every election except one.
"I wasn't able to vote when President Kennedy was elected," said Cooper.
Like any responsible registered voter, when Cooper heard about the new state law which requires a photo ID to vote, she headed to the Department of Safety to get one but that's when the trouble started.
"This is the first time I've ever had any problems at all," said Cooper.
Cooper was prepared with her original birth certificate, her voter registration card and two other forms of ID but that wasn't enough.
"She said, 'well I can't issue a photo ID," explained Charline Kilpatrick, who volunteers to help senior citizens register to vote. She had been in that office four times before for the exact same reason.
"She needed a marriage license and I said, well what does she need a marriage license for," asked Kilpatrick.
Cooper is not the last name listed on her birth certificate. She needed to prove how her name changed, but that meant finding her marriage license from decades ago.
"She really could've picked up the phone and called Nashville, but she didn't," Kilpatrick said.
"Really, the Department of Safety was doing what they had to do, what they needed to do," said Hamilton County Election Commission Administrator Charlotte Mullins-Morgan.
Morgan said all Cooper needed was her voter registration card and a signed affidavit stating she didn't have a photo ID. Cooper had both. "Well, it could probably had been handled a little differently," Morgan said.
However, Cooper said it won't keep her from casting her ballot when the time comes. She signed up for an absentee ballot which does not require a photo ID.
"They don't realize that every vote counts," Cooper said.