All Reba Miller Bowser of Asheville wanted to do was get a photo ID (as her adopted state of North Carolina required her to do) so she could vote.
“We have a tradition of it being important — civic duty, and all that kind of thing,” said her son, Ed Bowser.
Unfortunately for Reba, some traditions don’t mean much in North Carolina anymore.
Reba, 86, a Pennsylvania native, had followed Ed and his wife Amy Knisley down here back in 2012, after living in New Hampshire for many years.
Her N.H. driver’s license expired a little more than a year ago, and with the New Hampshire primaries “in her face,” as her son puts it, she realized that NC primaries were coming up soon, so she’d better go get a non-operators ID from the DMV on Patton Avenue.
She went down there on Monday, driven by her son Ed. She’d given up driving when she came to N.C., which Knisley called “a responsible decision on her part.”
She and Ed brought a lot of old ID’s with them to get the new, N.C. legislature approved ID. They brought two birth certificates — one state issued from Pennsylvania, and one hospital issued. And she brought a Social Security card, and a Medicare card. For proof of residence, Reba brought a cable bill and an apartment lease.
Long story short: Not good enough. After waiting for the usual amount of time one waits at the DMV, they were called up to the desk, where an employee looked over all the stuff they brought.
“She looked at it and said, ‘There’s a problem here,’” said Ed.”She went away for a few minutes to check with somebody in the office. And she came back and said, ‘No, sorry, we have to have a marriage license, or some document with an official name change.’ So, we had to leave.”
Knisley, a professor of environmental studies at Warren Wilson College, , explained the problem to The INDY. (She requested that reporters refrain from “rattling” Reba by calling her.)
“On her birth certificate, there’s her first name, her middle name, and her ‘maiden name’ — the surname of her birth,” said Knisley. “When she got married in Pennsylvania 1950, to a guy she was married to for over 60 years, until he died, she legally changed her name, making her maiden surname her middle name.”
Reba’s original middle name was Witmer. When she got married, it was changed to Miller.
“As people do,” said Knisley. “Especially women in 1950. And women, to this day.”
So, her Pennsylvania birth certificate shows a different middle name than her marriage license from 1950.
To complicate matters more, there’s not even a full middle name spelled out on the latter — just the initial M.
Ed said that his mom took it all in stride, at first.
“It was kind of like, disappointed, but not really upset about it,” said Ed.
But by the next day, Knisley said that Reba was a little more upset and “discouraged.”
“They were a voting family,” said Knisley.” They were a staunch Republican family for quite some time. I think her views may have evolved over time.
“Despite the fact that she’s shown up with exactly what they told her to show up with, she now has to go back, get a marriage license to prove to the great state of North Carolina that she changed her name legally.”
Those Pennsylvania records are kept in the county courthouses,Knisley wrote to the INDY in an email Wednesday morning.
“We don’t know yet what’s entailed in getting it. There are online firms that will do it, and based on fairly cursory searches it appears those costs would run $50 – $100.”
She added that she got a call from the Raleigh DMV office on Tuesday, with an offer to help in any way possible.
That may have been inspired to do so by a righteously angry Facebook post that Knisley put up Monday about the whole mess. As of Wednesday morning, it’s been shared more than 18,000 times.
That number of shares surprised Ed a little bit.
“This is one of those consequences of this ‘photo Id’ — people are going to get caught out,” Ed said on Tuesday.
UPDATE: Knisley sent this new information along to The INDY on Thursday: “Our request to the Lancaster County marriage records office is in the mail, along with (yes) the $10 check. I don’t know how long it will take for it to get back to us.”