The state DMV commissioner says his agency was wrong to turn away an 86-year-old Asheville woman who applied this week for a photo ID, which she’ll need to vote next month. “We messed that one up,” DMV Commissioner Kelly J. Thomas said in an interview. “We made a mistake. We’re going to try to correct it on Friday.” Reba Miller Bowser moved to North Carolina in 2012. Her son helped her fill out a voter registration application last weekend. He drove her to their local DMV office on Monday for the photo identity card she needs under North Carolina’s 2013 voter ID law. She carried a pile of papers, hoping to satisfy North Carolina’s lengthy documentation requirements for driver’s licenses and ID cards. “It became kind of an exciting thing to do, and we went to the DMV on Monday – and got totally deflated,” said her son, Ed Bowser. In two versions of her 1929 Pennsylvania birth certificate, she was identified as Reba Witmer Miller. She had taken her husband’s surname when they married in 1950, and the name change was reflected on her Social Security and Medicare cards and her expired New Hampshire driver’s license: Reba M. Bowser.
All this was not sufficient proof that she was really, truly Reba Miller Bowser. “The DMV was saying they need something that verifies that ‘M’ stands for ‘Miller,’” said Amy Lee Knisley, Bowser’s daughter-in-law. “She’s been voting and getting driver’s licenses and traveling in the Caribbean and Mexico all those 60 odd years – and the state of North Carolina decides none of that is good enough for us.”
Reba Bowser had been enthusiastic about voting this spring. She has been a Republican for years but is registering in North Carolina as politically unaffiliated. Her son went to work this week trying to obtain a copy of her 1950 Pennsylvania marriage license, which might serve as proof of her changed name. But after her rejection at the DMV office, she’s ready to give up. “She’s discouraged,” Knisley said. “She doesn’t want to try again. So we’ve got to get her out of that mood.”
Knisley’s social media account of her mother-in-law’s disappointment was shared this week by more than 23,000 Facebook users. It inspired back-and-forth arguments reflecting sharp partisan divisions over North Carolina’s strict voter ID law.