Sally Robare and Outrageous Voter ID Laws


I had a long conversation a couple of days ago with Sally Robare of Shelby, North Carolina. It reminded me, potently, of two things. The first is how much I abhor the moves by Republican legislatures across the country to disenfranchise vulnerable citizens through voter ID laws. The second is how inspiring an engaged, feisty, courageous and annoyed citizen can be.

Ms. Robare, 65, lives in the Lions Senior Village in Shelby. She moved there from New York four years ago. She registered to vote and easily cast her ballot in 2012. The folks at the polling station were extraordinarily nice, she reported. But then she read that she would soon need a state photo ID to vote. She didn’t have a car or North Carolina driver’s license or passport. She hadn’t driven in years and had no need of such. So she decided to go to the Shelby DMV to get an ID.

The trip itself was a production. Sally had a heart attack a couple years ago and has had heart trouble since. So getting across town and waiting in line at the DMV would be a challenge. The Lions Village has an elder van, but it’s only available for medical matters. A cab ride, she discovered, would cost $12 each way, which she couldn’t easily afford. She eventually found a friend who could give her a ride. She didn’t think getting an ID would be a problem. She had her New York driver’s license, her Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare cards, a utility bill with her present address, and a letter from her landlord. She was, though, apprehensive (and tired) as she waited in line. The only person working in the office wore a uniform and looked like a policeman. He’d been rude to everyone in front of her.

When her turn finally came, she explained she wanted to get an ID so she could vote. “I handed him my license and other things,” she said. The agent looked at her license and threw it back on the counter. “Don’t you know you can’t use that,” he said, “it’s expired.” Ms. Robare explained she didn’t know it had expired. He refused to look at the other documents and turned her away. “He treated me like I was stupid,” she said. “I was in tears.” She went home.

After doing more research, she learned she would need copy of her birth certificate. That was something of a problem. Ms. Robare is adopted and, in New York, her records were sealed. So she was told she would have to apply to Albany for a new one. But she was dogged, learned where to make the request, and paid the special fee and delivery costs. The bill came to $72. But she now has, for the first time in forever, a birth certificate.

Ms. Robare said she hasn’t gone back to the DMV yet. It’s still hard to get a ride and she’s been sick a lot. She’s also worried the same man will be there. She believes if there is any way he can turn her down, he will.

“He can try to tear into me, but I won’t let him.” Besides, when you’re dealing with a state agency, she reports, “you can just sit back, takes your shoes off, and know it’s going to take awhile.” Though she never expected the “mouthiness.”

Ms. Robare said she doesn’t really understand all the political divisiveness these days. But if you don’t vote, you’ve got no right to complain. “I never dreamed it would be so hard just to get to vote like every other American, but I guess that’s the way it is here.”

Sally’s required gauntlet is an outrage to the United States Constitution. Recall that even a $2 poll tax is prohibited. The fact that the Republican legislature and governor launched it under patent and cynical pretext compounds the wound. The privileges and obligations of American citizenship are not trifles – to be sneered at and debased if politicians don’t like the way you vote. Or the way they assume you will vote.

I’m guessing that folks will long remember the political party that tried, anew, to keep them from being able to exercise their birthright. And Republicans will learn not to mess with the likes of Sally Robare.

Gene Nichol is Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of law and director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina and President Emeritus of College of William & Mary.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2015

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