Reba Miller Bowser was excited about voting in the first national election since her move to North Carolina in 2012. On Saturday, Feb. 6, she filled out her North Carolina voter registration form — and posed for a celebratory photo with her son, Ed Bowser, before mailing off the form.
Their excitement came to a sudden and unexpected end on Monday, Feb. 8, when workers at the Patton Avenue office of the Department of Motor Vehicles refused to issue Reba a photo ID. Though Reba and Ed had carefully checked the DMV’s requirements, and had brought the required documents and then some — not one but two birth certificates, a social security card, a Medicare card, an expired New Hampshire driver’s license, as well as a utility bill and a copy of the lease to her apartment — DMV workers nonetheless found an issue with the documentation.
When she married in 1950, Bowser changed her middle name to her maiden name. The DMV representatives told Bowser and her son that a copy of her marriage license was needed to provide a record of the name change. So the 86-year-old grandmother left without an ID, and without a clear idea of how long it would take to order the required documentation from Pennsylvania, where she had been married.
2016 is the first year in which voters in North Carolina will be required to show a photo ID in order to vote.
“We thought that everything would be fine, and mom would have her photo ID and she would be able to walk proudly into the polling place and vote for the first time in North Carolina,” recalls Ed Bowser.
Amy Lee Knisley, who is married to Ed Bowser, was so upset by her mother-in-law’s experience that she took to Facebook, writing an angry post that was shared over 10,000 times during the next two days.
“They were prepared,” wrote Knisley on Facebook. “And yet she left ID-less. When will she get back to try again? By her own responsible choice, she does not drive, and has no car. She’s been voting for over 60 years!”
By Wednesday, perhaps alerted to the interest Knisley’s post had generated on Facebook, state DMV officials contacted Knisley to say that the Asheville DMV employee had made a mistake in denying Mrs. Bowser’s request for a photo ID. And on Thursday, says Ed Bowser, the DMV arranged for a mobile unit to visit his mother’s apartment complex on Friday to resolve the issue.
“It’s going to be resolved on television tomorrow,” related Bowser in a telephone call on Thursday evening, referring to TV news crews who planned to cover the DMV’s visit.
“She’s had a long record of participating in elections, so you can imagine her disappointment when we were turned away,” Bowser comments. “To see all the support coming her way, and now that we think there will be a resolution, it was gratifying to see that the DMV acknowledged that it made some mistakes. Whatever the intentions of the law, the unintended consequences are affecting people like my mom. Other folks might not have the same resources to respond to this kind of situation.”
“The best possible outcome would be that other folks who face similar challenges will realize that there is help,” he says.
Correction: An earlier version of this online article used an incorrect spelling of the Bowsers’ surname. The article was corrected on Feb. 12, 2016 at 4:26 p.m.