For Older Voters, Getting The Right ID Can Be Especially Tough Lost birth certificates, name changes and even getting to the DMV can all be challenges when older people try to get a new driver's license in order to vote in states with strict voter ID laws.

For Older Voters, Getting The Right ID Can Be Especially Tough

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Nearly three dozen states require voters to show identification at the polls. Almost half of those states want photo IDs. But there are millions of eligible voters who don't have them. Some organizations sued to overturn these laws. We're going to hear about one that takes a different approach by helping people get the identification they need. NPR's Ina Jaffe covers aging. She reports that some of the most challenging cases have come from older adults.


BILL COX: So you need an ID, Pam?

PAMELA MOON: Yes, sir. I do.

COX: OK. So you don't have a Georgia driver's license?

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Bill Cox is helping 53-year-old Pamela Moon get a Georgia photo ID. He's a volunteer with a nonprofit organization called Spread The Vote that was founded just last year.


COX: Are you a U.S. citizen?

MOON: Yes, I am.

COX: You were born here in...

JAFFE: Spread The Vote has a table every other Tuesday at Sweetwater Mission in the town of Austell. So people who were there to get food and clothes, like Pamela Moon, can also apply for a state ID.


COX: Do you have a certified copy of your birth certificate?

MOON: I did, and I lost it.

COX: We will help you get that. We will pay for it once you get that.

JAFFE: That's good news for Moon. The cost of a birth certificate and an ID comes to $57 in Georgia. And she lives mostly on disability benefits. Research shows that most people without government IDs are low-income, so they have more urgent concerns than voting. Kat Calvin, the lawyer who founded Spread The Vote, says she learned this the hard way.

KAT CALVIN: We're going around canvassing with, like, voter reg groups, or just on our own or whatever and just...


CALVIN: ...Do you have an ID? And (laughter) terrifying people.

JAFFE: Just knocking on the door.

CALVIN: Knocking on doors or stopping them at bus stops, just asking people if they had ID. And we realized, oh, nobody knows us. They don't trust us. So we realized this will only work if we work with someone that the people we're trying to reach trust.

JAFFE: So in the five states where Spread The Vote is active, they partner with organizations like Sweetwater Mission that deal with their clients' most basic human needs.

CALVIN: So then when we talk to them about voting, they're going to be much more open to it.

JAFFE: Studies also show that the people who are most likely to be prevented from voting by ID laws are racial minorities. That's been true of the roughly 600 people that Spread The Vote has worked with. One more statistic - about 40 percent of their clients are older than 50. Calvin says that can present special challenges.

CALVIN: If you are elderly and you were born in a rural area, born during Jim Crow, you may not have ever gotten a birth certificate.

JAFFE: At Action Ministries in Atlanta, Spread The Vote volunteer Billie Remsa says she's mainly helped older people. And their issues are different.

BILLIE REMSA: Most of them don't drive anymore. So taking four buses to go downtown so that they can get their picture ID, these require funds. They don't have them.

JAFFE: So Spread The Vote not only pays for the documents, they drive people where they need to go to get them. Another complication for older women is the name changes that come with marriage, divorce or remarriage. Fallon McClure, head of Spread The Vote in Georgia, explains that the state wants documentation for every single name-changing event.

FALLON MCCLURE: We've had people that, for instance, just didn't know where one of the divorces occurred. So how do you get a divorce (laughter) decree if you don't even know what county to look for it in?

JAFFE: Even things that older people are sure they know about their history sometimes turn out to be wrong. Fifty-four-year-old Jimmy Lockett grew up in Louisiana and assumed he'd been born there.

JIMMY LOCKETT: Come to find out I was born in Memphis.

JAFFE: In Tennessee. Lockett spent 30 years in Atlanta running the streets, as he puts it, panhandling, doing drugs and working odd jobs off the books. It was the only kind of work he could get without an ID. He hadn't had one in decades. Now, because of Spread The Vote, he does. It's hidden like a precious jewel deep in his pocket.

LOCKETT: I keep it so nice and tight and tucked away.

JAFFE: The ID has helped Lockett turn his life around. He now has a steady job. He has housing. He's also been sober for more than six months. And he's looking forward to being a first-time voter.

LOCKETT: I'm very proud of that. I used to been nothing, but now I got a goal. I got a goal to try to achieve.

JAFFE: A goal to continue changing his life and a goal to vote and maybe help change the world just a little. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.


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