Here’s a little story about voting and the “ease” of obtaining government-issued identification:
In the 2012 election, my wife — who is a white, middle class, native English speaker — had to cast a provisional ballot at the polling place that’s three minutes away from our house. Why? Because they couldn’t find her on the list of registered voters.
Why couldn’t they find her? Because the Nebraska DMV, where she registered to vote, lists her maiden name as the first of two last names, rather than as the second of two middle names. The federal government, and everyone else in the known universe, lists her maiden name as a middle name rather than a last name.
How did this unusual predicament come to pass?
Well, we got married in Virginia rather than in Nebraska. The Commonwealth of Virginia filed our marriage certificate and issued us certified copies, signed and with an embossed seal, that we could use as proof of our marriage. When we returned to Nebraska, my wife filled out and mailed all sorts of paperwork to change her name with the federal government and she took a certified copy of our marriage certificate to the Nebraska DMV to change her driver’s license.
After waiting in line for some time, she was informed by a clerk that the original marriage certificate — not a certified copy — was required in order for her to change her name on her driver’s license. So my wife got on her cell phone to call the courthouse in Virginia so the nice people there could explain to the nice people at the DMV that the original was on file and that nothing but these official copies are issued. The DMV clerk refused to accept this explanation and my wife had to return home without a new license.
A few days later, she received her new Social Security card, which recorded her name. She took that card, along with the official copy of our marriage certificate, back to the Nebraska DMV and waited in line again. This time, she was told that she could get a new license that lists all of her names, but that the DMV computer would list her as having two last names rather than two middle names. Alternatively, she was told, she could get a court order for a name change.
Looking into the question of a court order, we discovered that — in fact — should could not get a court order to change her name … because her name had already been changed according to the federal government. So, she’d be asking a Nebraska court to change her name to the name that she already had.
After three trips to the DMV, a whole bunch of phone calls, several email exchanges with managers at the DMV and with the state ombudsman, she was issued a new driver’s license that contains all of her names but that doesn’t make clear which of them are middle names and which are last names.
According to the federal government, my wife and I have the same last name. But here in Nebraska, we do not. And no matter how much time we spent on the matter, no matter how clearly and calmly we — and other government officials — explained everything, and no matter how much of a hassle it has caused and will continue to cause her, this is a problem that isn’t going away.
So you see, middle class white guys, I was once like you. I believed that people could go to the DMV and, after waiting in line, transact whatever business was necessary in order to get the proper credentials to do all manner of things for which we require those credentials. But, it turns out, not everyone’s experiences are the same as those of middle class white guys.