Reba Bowser seems like the kind of person North Carolina Republicans might want on their side this November. She’s 86 years old. She’s a staunch Republican. She’s been a faithful voter since the Eisenhower administration, missing only the most recent election after moving from New Hampshire to western North Carolina to be close to her son’s family. “Both my parents, they voted in every election,” that son, Ed Bowser, says. “My grandparents did, too. They took this seriously.” So this month, with the North Carolina primary approaching, Reba wanted to make sure she could vote again. She needed to register, and she needed a valid photo ID, because beginning this year, North Carolina is requiring one to vote. Last week, Ed helped her gather the papers the state said she needed for that ID. They decided to make an event of the process – a celebration of democracy. They went out to lunch. They filled out her voter registration form. They took a happy photo. On Monday, they went to the Department of Motor Vehicles in west Asheville. There, they laid out all of Reba’s paperwork for a DMV official – her birth record from Pennsylvania, her Social Security card, the New Hampshire driver’s license she let expire because she no longer wanted to drive. But there was a problem. When Reba got married in 1950, she had her name legally changed. Like millions upon millions of women, she swapped out her middle name for her maiden name.
That name – Reba Miller Bowser – didn’t match the name on her birth record. A DMV computer flagged the discrepancy. Her photo ID application was rejected. Ed was stunned. And Reba? “It wasn’t obvious to my mom what was happening,” he says.
There’s good reason for Reba’s confusion. Her name had never been an issue before this week. Not when she applied for driver’s licenses in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Not when she’s flown on airplanes and traveled to other countries. But now, she’s become tangled in other people’s politics. It’s exactly the kind of thing voter ID opponents predicted when the law was passed in 2013.
Republicans, in the face of a court challenge, watered down voter ID last year. A revision allowed voters like Reba to declare an “impediment” in writing and cast a provisional ballot without a photo. But Reba’s declaration would still have to be checked out, and the same middle name issue might cause her provisional vote not to be counted.