She, like countless others, is a victim of the Republican Party’s attempt to suppress minority voters from voting for a Democrat. But she’s a Republican and white, in the important swing state of North Carolina.
So the plan the GOP has so cynically implemented since the election of the first black U.S. President is catching a lot of their own would-be voters in their little roach motel scheme. And in so doing, it belies the fallacy of its purpose, which is to blatantly suppress the vote of traditionally poor minority Democrats, under the guise of curtailing voter fraud, where, statistically none exists. Why? Because the GOP seems to have forgotten who their base is…older, but also older and poorer white people.
She’s 88 years old. She’s a life-long loyal Republican. She’s white. She’s been a faithful Republican voter since the Eisenhower administration, missing only the most recent election while moving from Maryland to western North Carolina to be close to her family.
Carrie Thomas is exactly the type of voter North Carolina Republicans want casting unencumbered votes this November. But now, she’s become tangled in nasty partisan politics. It’s also exactly the kind of result that voter ID opponents predicted when the law was passed in 2013.
“Both my parents, they voted in every election,” her son, Ed Thomas, says. “My grandparents did, too. They took this seriously, and now so do I.” It never seems to be important until it strikes home.
With the North Carolina primary rapidly approaching, Carrie wanted to make sure she could vote as she has for well over a half century. And she needed to register, so 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 even decided to make the process a special occasion – a celebration of democracy. They went out to lunch at a local eatery. They filled out her voter registration form. The family took a happy photo of her completed paperwork with her proud son at her side.
Where is Norman Rockwell when you need him? If this isn’t Americana, what the hell is?
On Monday, they went to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Asheville; a mostly white, upscale city in the western North Carolina Appalachian Mountain region. There, they laid out all of Carrie’s paperwork for a DMV official – her birth record from Maryland, her Social Security card, even the Vermont driver’s license she let expire because she no longer wanted to drive.
But, as Republicans had hoped would happen to traditional Democrats, instead, something went terribly wrong for Republican Carrrie Thomas. You see, when Carrie got married in 1952, she had her name legally changed. Like millions of American women, she swapped out her middle name for her maiden name. My own daughter recently did the exact same thing when she recently married. It transcends generations. My wife did the same thing when we maried But Republicans forget that when they pass a law to cheat their opponents out of their right to vote, it ensnares some of their own too.
That name – Carrie Miller Thomas – didn’t match the name on her birth record. A DMV computer flagged the discrepancy. Her photo ID application was rejected. And Carrie Thomas suddenly became a victim of the Republicans plan to suppress the minority vote, for whom she had spent her entire life supporting.
Son, Ed, was stunned at the reality that his chosen party and their dirty tricks can backfire on his loved ones. And Carrie? “It wasn’t obvious to my mom what was happening,” he says. “Hell, it was confusing to me too. I guess I never thought about how it would affect me or my family. I didn’t know what to tell my mom. I feel bad for her. It’s probably the last election she’d have been able to vote in.”
And therein lies the secret to why so many Republican voters vote against their own interests.
There’s good reason for Carrie’s and Ed’s confusion. Her name had never been an issue before this week. Not when she applied for driver’s licenses in Maryland sixty years ago, nor in Vermont twenty-five years ago. Not when she’s flown on airplanes or traveled to other countries. Not until Republicans set out to suppress the vote of minorities and it backfired on its own. This same tale is playing out in more and more documented cases, yet it goes unreported by the sorry excuse for today’s media that follows only the high-stakes political races, and often takes “artistic license” because of pressure from its corporate owners, but ignores the havoc and disenfranchisement that politicians are creating across the country in the struggle for political power and lobbying and donation dollars rather than good public policy.
And this is but one battle front that is being fought in North Carolina, a particularly important swing state, whose Republican governor and legislature have been ordered by their own courts to fix their extreme racial gerrymandering, not to mention the voter suppresion.
Republicans, in the face of a court challenge, diluted the requirements for obtaining a photo voter ID last year. A revision allowed voters like Carrie to declare an “impediment” in a notarized statement so that voters could cast a provisional ballot without a photo. But Carrie’s declaration would still have to be checked out, and the same middle name issue might cause her provisional vote not to be counted.
And actually, Carie is lucky, in a way. Her son is trying to find a copy of her marriage certificate from the Maryland county where Carrie was married 66 years ago. Her daughter-in-law Emily Bilsner wrote about Carrie’s experience on Facebook, and she’s getting suggestions on next steps.
“Someone said we should try going through the Social Security Administration,” Emily says. “That should be really easy”, Emily said sarcastically. But therein lies the point of this exercise in voter suppression. Republicans passed voter ID to make voting harder, not easier, and they hawked the fiction that the hassle was worth it to stop voter fraud. Except the kind of fraud that voter ID would stop is practically non-existent, and has been proven time and time again. All it really does is make it harder for honest, but older or poorer Americans to vote.
And it’s an issue that Ed and Emily hadn’t followed much, at least until it snagged Carrie. But now, Ed says: “I’m thinking how this affected my own mom, an 88-year-old woman with limited transportation and resources. You think about extending that to poor communities and minority communities.” The problem is, too many Republican voters don’t consider the consequences of their actions will have on themselves.
That’s what Republicans were thinking, too, when they crafted the voter ID law. They assumed the aggravation they created would mostly affect the people who vote for their opponents, and they’re probably correct in that it will effect more traditional votes for Democrats, but that doesn’t make it any less cynical or underhanded.
So in this case, it’s also working on Carrie Thomas, who told Emily this week that they seem to treat old people differently here in North Carolina than they do in Maryland and Vermont.
“Maybe,” Carrie said, “I’m just not going to vote. I can’t believe it. This is probably the last election I’d have been able to vote in but I guess America doesn’t care as much about all people having a say as I thought. Makes me want to cry.” And there it is. The exact reaction for which Republicans hoped would give them an edge in coming elections. I suppose they simply write off Carrie Thomas as collateral damage, hoping it keeps more voters on the Democrat roles from voting than on the Republican roles in their quest for power, by hook or by crook…it doesn’t seem to matter any more.
Harvey A. Gold