Commentary: A story of 2 Samaritans, and one bad law

I have a story to tell. It is a story of great human kindness and of an unnecessary hardship faced by many of our elderly citizens.

A week before the Nov. 7 election, I met Ingrid Middleton, a 95-year old woman who lives in New Market. Ingrid is a registered voter and wanted to vote in the upcoming election. But she had no way to get to the polls, so I offered to drive her.

Then the night before Election Day it occurred to me that Ingrid would not be able to vote. She would be forced to cast a provisional ballot instead. Why? A 2013 law enacted by the General Assembly requires all Virginia voters to present a government-issued photo ID in order to cast their ballot.

Like many people her age, Ingrid has no government-issued photo ID. She does not drive and so has no driver’s license. Nor does she have a passport, student ID, or any of the other state-approved forms of photo ID.

I realized that for Ingrid’s vote to count, she would have to go to the voter registrar’s office in Woodstock, so that she could be issued the government photo ID she needed to be allowed to vote.

Since I was unable to take the time to pick Ingrid up in New Market, take her to Woodstock, get her photo ID, and then drive her back to New Market to vote, I tried to think of someone else who might be able to help.

On the morning of Election Day I called Stephanie and Dennis Ragan, a civic-minded couple I’d met who live near Ingrid. Even though I was asking a lot – to pick up Ingrid, take her to Woodstock and back and then to the polls – and all with hardly any notice, they agreed.

The day after Election Day, I checked in with the Ragans to see if all had gone smoothly and Ingrid had indeed gotten to vote. The experience Dennis related was an amazing testament to determination! Dennis described how he and Stephanie had driven Ingrid up to Woodstock through pouring rain. Once at the registrar’s office, it turned out that the equipment needed to create the photo ID was not working. The IT staffer was out at one of the county polling places fixing a voting machine problem, so there was nothing to do but wait.

An hour and a half later, Ingrid and the Ragans were finally able to leave the registrar’s office, photo ID certification in hand, and headed back down Interstate 81, to the New Market polling place.

Ingrid did get to cast her ballot and have it counted. Stephanie and Dennis got her back to her home, exhausted, several hours after they had first picked her up.

So the good news is that Good Samaritans like the Ragans saved the day. Only because of their kindness and their generosity with their time was Ingrid able to vote that day.

But the bad news is that there are many people like Ingrid – elderly citizens who are registered to vote but cannot vote because they lack a government-issued photo ID. And how many such citizens have friends or neighbors willing and able to spend many hours helping them to vote?

It should not be so hard for elderly people like Ingrid to vote! Virginia’s restrictive voter ID law’s supporters claim that this law is intended to prevent voter fraud. Yet study after study has shown that this argument itself is a fraud. There is no problem that is fixed by this law. But it is disenfranchising many qualified – and registered-Virginia voters.

April Moore, a resident of Shenandoah County, is the author of the blog www.TheEarthConnection.org, which celebrates the natural beauty around us.