When I first heard that legislation was being considered to require a government-issued photo ID to vote in Tennessee elections, a strange cold chill went up my back along with a memory of the spring of 1997. That memory had nothing to do with voting, but instead it brought back the memory of myself acquiring a passport for a trip, which also required me having a birth certificate to prove who I am. The weeks following the initial filing of the application turned into a nightmare that I hope no one has to experience just to exercise their right to vote in 2012.
Getting a passport is not that hard, but it was what I learned about my birth certificate that made me think what could happen to one who may be getting a photo ID and is just planning to use it for voting only. You see, after completing all the paper work in 1997, having my picture made, giving the clerk a check for $65, and swearing I am a good citizen of the USA, I handed the clerk my birth certificate. It was the original copy my mother had used for all those years she sent me to school, got me shots at the health department, and gave to me when I got married. It was dark brown and what I thought was a certified copy. However, the clerk informed me as soon as she saw it, that it was not a certified copy but what is known as a “mother’s copy” and I would have to get one from the Tennessee Department of Vital Records.
So, I began to call Nashville and found out it is almost impossible to talk to a human when you call the Department of Vital Records. The process to get a certified copy by phone was done by voice-mail. I punched the numbers one and two over fifteen times to order my certificate.
I placed the order on Thursday and received the certified copy of my birth certificate on Monday. Removing the certificate from the envelope, I immediately took a quick glance at the legal document from our state government. Everything seemed to be right, until I looked real close at the top line where my first name was typed. There in bold letters was the incorrect spelling of my first name. Instead of it being Pettus, it was Petties. For forty-eight years I had been spelling my name wrong, as far as the state government was concerned.
After an immediate call to Nashville and the Department of Vital Records, I started again to talk to machines. Finally, after several pushes of the numbers one and two, I reached a human. The lady on the other end listened politely to my horror story and assured me it could be fixed. However, I would have to prove who I am. My mother had to get an affidavit notarized from her attorney, saying an error was made and I am Pettus, not Petties. I had to go to Nashville with my wife, take our marriage license, our children’s birth certificates, and any other legal proof that showed that I am Pettus. The only thing I did wrong was to be born. Either the doctor who delivered me, the county health department, or the 1948 Department of Vital Records failed to correct an error that had made me who I was not. I had the error corrected and am now who I say that I am.
Knowing that anything can happen in state record keeping and with the new voter ID law going into effect in 2012, it is important now to start thinking about what is needed for approved photo IDs. Starting in 2012, registered voters in Tennessee will have to show government-issued photo identification in order to cast a ballot at the polls. The acceptable forms of ID include:
“¢ Tennessee driver license with a photo
“¢ U.S. passport
“¢ Photo ID from the federal government
“¢ U.S. military ID
“¢ Gun permit card with a photo
If you do not have one of these it is time to start getting prepared if you plan to vote in Tennessee elections after January 1, 2012. If you are a registered voter you may obtain a photo ID at no charge at any of the Tennessee Department of Safety’s 49 Driver Service Centers across the state. You have to bring the following items with you to get the ID, which are:
“¢ Proof of being a registered voter (a voter registration card);
“¢ Proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate); and
“¢ Two proofs of Tennessee residency (such as a copy of a utility bill, vehicle registration/title, or bank statement).
It is very important to bring these documents to the Driver Service Center. Under the law, you cannot be issued a photo ID without each of these required items.
If you currently have a driver licenses without a photo, you may rather just go to the Driver Service Center near you and get a photo license. You will need to present a voter registration card and if you are only wanting to obtain a photo on the driver license, then there will be no fee for the service.
The important thing is to start now! Please don’t wait until election time next year when lines are long and nerves are way beyond their prime. Don’t let a change in the law stop you from voting and no matter if you were for or against the legislation, the important thing is to keep yourself on the voting roles.
And, some of us needed a new picture of ourselves anyway.
– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo from Wikipedia