Dorothy Cooper, 96, clutched her new voter ID in an envelope Thursday afternoon and said, “I can rest my mind.”
“When you’re as old as I am, you don’t need all of this on you,” Cooper said while sitting in the parking lot of the state Driver Service Center in Red Bank, where she went to get the identification card. “I went to enough trouble.”
Now she can go to the polls in March rather than voting absentee, which is what she decided she might have to do after being denied a photo ID earlier this month.
A new state law requires that everyone show a photo ID to cast a ballot.
On Oct. 3, Cooper went to the Tennessee Department of Safety Driver Service Center to get her free photo ID, but workers there turned her down. Cooper, who has outlived two husbands, didn’t bring a marriage certificate to prove she was the same Dorothy Alexander from her 1915 birth certificate.
On Thursday she came with her birth certificate, telephone bill, lease and a marriage certificate. Then state workers asked for an additional piece of evidence — her Social Security card.
Charline Kilpatrick, a local Democrat who has been taking voters like Cooper to the Driver Service Centers to get IDs, immediately called Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s office to tell him about the Social Security card request.
Adam Kleinheider, Ramsey’s communications director, said later on Thursday that he received the call, then called the Department of Safety.
“[Kilpatrick] did express her view that we need to do more to educate on this, and we agree,” Kleinheider said. “We’ve tried to help in any way that we can.”
Before Thursday, the Safety Department offered to help Cooper get a free ID, but she declined, telling them she’d decided to vote absentee. She said she later changed her mind, and Kilpatrick again offered a ride to the center.
“I wanted my ID with a picture on it,” Cooper said. “So many places I go ask me for it.”
After the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported her story on Oct. 5, national media outlets, including MSNBC, featured Cooper. The Tennessee Democratic Party now uses her experience as a rallying cry against the new law.
“It’s particularly offensive to me that the GOP may be bragging about one person trying to get a voter ID after two tries,” said Brandon Puttbrese, the state party’s director of communications.
Cooper’s niece, Julia Fleming, 52, joined Kilpatrick and Cooper on Thursday. Fleming doesn’t have a car.
Cooper “didn’t know she was making as big a splash,” Fleming said. “She said, ‘I hope I reached somebody.’”
Cooper has been voting since her 20s and said she wanted to continue going to the polls.
“I don’t keep up with politics myself,” Cooper said.
Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...