Genevieve Winslow of Milwaukee belongs is a member of the Greatest Generation. In 1948, at age 20, she married Alex Winslow, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Beginning a year later, at 21, she’s voted in nearly every election since. Now, she worries she might get turned away at the polls in the future. It is a common concern among older Americans living in states that have enacted photo ID requirements for voting. Passed by Republican state legislatures as a hedge against voter fraud, the laws have been assailed by critics who say they discriminate against the elderly and minorities. As Wisconsin implements its law, it is opening a window into why a photo ID can be so difficult for the elderly to obtain. But it is also highlighting what some activists are calling a “war against the Greatest Generation” as federal and state budget cuts fall disproportionately on the elderly. Whether it is the government shutdown making it harder to obtain veteran’s benefits or cuts to food stamps or state welfare programs, many in the Greatest Generation feel that they are now being left in the cold. During the latest partial government shutdown, “I don’t know that people didn’t get their benefits, but does that mean that things did not get processed while the government was shut down? Yes,” says David Hobson, executive director of the National Organization of Veterans Advocates. ” That does mean that claims did not get processed, so that was being held up.” Yet voter ID laws, which have been adopted in at least 34 states, feel to many seniors like the most direct attack.
The problem Ms. Winslow faces is common among her generation: The name on her birth certificate doesn’t match her other identification. Winslow’s birth certificate misspelled her last name as Kujansky, when it was actually Kujawski. In addition, the first name on her birth certificate, Genava, was Anglicized to Genevieve in elementary school.
Thousands of elderly voters who lack current driver’s licenses have been turned down for state-issued photo IDs for not producing proper birth certificates, says Julie Ebenstein, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is fighting against some state’s laws. Sometimes, the birth certificate is missing or destroyed. For people born at home instead of a hospital, one might never have been issued. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for birth certificates to leave the first name blank – making them useless now for photo IDs. And for a generation of children of immigrants, ethnic names caused frequent errors.
Wisconsin’s law passed in 2011, and a judge in Dane County (which includes Madison), has already blocked the law. But opponents are pursuing a ban in federal court, worried that the Dane County ruling could be overturned.