State Insists Dorothy Cooper Still Must Prove Her Last Name is Cooper



High-ranking state officials, egg all over their faces, are trying to contact 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper today to help her obtain a photo ID so she can exercise her right to vote. The officials obviously are embarrassed by her story, which appeared to their dismay today on the front page of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. But amazingly (or maybe not considering that we're talking about bureaucrats) they still don’t really get it.

Rather than presenting Mrs. Cooper with a photo ID—no more questions asked—they say they will tell her she has yet to finish jumping through their hoops. They say they will require her to rummage around in her house, find acceptable proof that her last name is indeed Cooper and then return to the driver’s license center with this documentation in hand. At that point, in what they apparently see as a great concession, they promise they won’t make her stand in line again.

We talked this afternoon about Mrs. Cooper with Safety Department communications director Jennifer Donnals, and here is the Q&A:

Q: What are you doing about Dorothy Cooper?

Donnals: We have attempted to call her today and we’ve not been able to reach her yet. We want to make sure she understands what she needs to bring back to the driver service center, and we will work with her to get her a photo ID.

Q: So that’s the best you can do?

Donnals: What else can we do? I mean, we’re trying to reach her. We’ve made a call to her and left a message. It actually took a little while to get her number. We didn’t have her contact information. … We want to work with her to get her photo ID.

Q: What documents does she need?

Donnals: She needs to bring back a document that shows what her last name is. We’re going to work with her to get that and get her a photo ID.

Q: Does she need a marriage certificate?

Donnals: We need to talk with her about what she has. We’re going to be able to work with her to prove her citizenship. Once we talk to her, she should know what to bring.

Do you concede that this clerk who initially dealt with Mrs. Cooper made a mistake?

Donnals: That situation could have been handled differently, yes.

Q: What does that mean?

Donnals: Well, the clerk was following policy for issuing photo IDs, but we think the clerk could have taken some extra steps to help this woman in this situation. But that is the policy. If someone comes in with the birth certificate that does not have their correct last name, then there needs to be some supporting document to prove that’s her last name.

Q: She had an envelope full of documents.

Donnals: But those weren’t acceptable documents under our policy.

OK, what document does she need?

Donnals: We want to talk with her about what she has. Every situation is different.

Q: Short of not following your policy and giving her a photo ID, what should the clerk have done? When you say work with Mrs. Cooper, what does that mean?

Donnals: Mrs. Cooper was turned away and we should have worked with her more to figure out what documents she has available. We didn’t do that. So we’re trying to do that now. She did not have a document in her envelope that would work. But she may have had other documents at home, and we’re trying to figure that out with Mrs. Cooper.

Q: But regardless, she would have been sent home without a photo ID, right?

Donnals: Maybe or maybe not. We may have been able to make some phone calls from the center to verify what her married name is. She is saying it’s Cooper, but her birth certificate does not list Cooper as her married name.

Q: But you’re still going to make this poor lady trudge back down to this place and wait?

Donnals: If she comes back to the center, we will try to make arrangements for her to come in and get her ID right away.

Q: She won’t have to wait? Are you sure about that?

Donnals: Our assistant commissioner for driver services is personally working on it.


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