Tom Humphrey, Nashville Bureau Chief
The case of Dorothy Cooper, a 96-year-old Chattanooga woman who encountered problems in trying to get a free photo ID for voting under a new state law, has gained national attention and is being used in fundraising by the state Democratic Party.
As initially reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Cooper — who had been voting since the 1930s — went to a driver's license station to get a photo ID and was turned down because she didn't have her marriage certificate. She did have a birth certificate, her voter registration card and other documents.
In a fundraising letter last week, state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester cites the case as an example of how "the Republican photo ID law has suppressed another voter." He asks for donations "to support our efforts to ensure people like Dorothy — or your grandmother — can be a voter on Election Day."
Forrester also cites comments by House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart, sponsor of the photo ID bill, in questioning contentions that the law will suppress turnout of "these people."
A Maggart comment Forrester cited was one she made to reporters last month: "Tell me how people are buying beer and cigarettes? They have to have an ID to do that ... I have a hard time believing that all these people don't have an ID. ... You have to have a photo ID to get public housing."
Says Forrester in his letter: "This is a disgraceful and sickening way to talk about responsible registered voters like Dorothy Cooper! Dorothy and our grandparents deserve better."
Meanwhile, the Rev. Al Sharpton had Cooper on his MSNBC Politics Nation show, telling viewers that her case illustrates the "radical Republican voter suppression" efforts now under way in Tennessee and elsewhere.
The mild-mannered Cooper says nothing of the sort. But in response to Sharpton questioning about whether she had ever encountered a problem in voting — even during "Jim Crow days" — she did say, "I never thought it would be like this, ever."
Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said Friday that Cooper's attempt to get a photo ID was mishandled and department officials have since been in touch with her to promise a card will be issued if she returns for another try.