Libby Miller was rejected as a voter for lack of proper photo identification and in a subsequent attempt to get one was told that the supposedly free card would cost $17.50, according to her parents.
At least 284 people statewide were stopped from casting a ballot in the Aug. 2 election because they had no photo ID, officials reported. But that figure doesn’t include people like Miller who did not request or receive a “provisional ballot.” No record is kept of those who were simply turned away without a provisional ballot.
Miller, a “mentally challenged” 60-year-old who has voted in every election since registering as voter at age 18, was disappointed at being turned away from the ballot box by poll workers who knew her, said her mother, Viola “Vi” Miller, 82.
“Everybody knew her. People were saying, ‘Hi, Libby, how are you? Good to see you,’ ” Vi Miller said. “But then they were saying they were sorry, but she couldn’t vote. … It was absurd.”
Libby Miller carried with her a Knoxville Transportation Authority photo ID obtained through the Sertoma Center, which she frequently visits. Her mother said Libby does odd jobs, such as watering plants and washing toys. While she’s able to do many things, Libby is not able to live independently, Vi Miller said.
The card had proved adequate for Libby Miller to go through airport security on a plane trip with her parents to visit a brother in New Jersey, Vi Miller said. But it was not adequate for voting.
The state law, which took effect Jan. 1, specifies that a voter’s photo ID must be issued by the state or federal government. Cards issued by an arm of city government are not accepted.
Determined that Libby Miller would be able to vote in the November election, Libby, her mother and her father — D.M. Miller, a retired educator who was a school principal for many years — gathered what they thought were the necessary documents about three weeks ago and went to a state driver’s license center where ID cards are issued, Vi Miller said.
When Libby’s turn came up after an hourlong wait, they were told the card would cost $17.50, Vi Miller said. The attendant looked at the birth certificate copy they had brought, noted it was not certified and said it was unacceptable. They were also told the Social Security documents they had were not adequate.
“We have been on a wild-goose chase,” Vi Miller said.
The family has since made separate trips to the appropriate state office to get a certified copy of the birth certificate — at a cost of $13 — and to the Knoxville Social Security office, where the attendant was so helpful Vi Miller said she wrote a complimentary letter to the Social Security Administration.
She also wrote a letter of complaint to state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, who is executive director of the Sertoma Center and knows the family. Massey said she knew immediately the $17.50 charge was wrong and that she passed along a copy of the letter to Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who oversees the state’s Division of Elections.
“They are really good people,” said Massey. “I’m sure it’s frustrating when you show up with what you think is the right stuff, then be turned away. … I think, hopefully, it’s all going to be straightened out.”
Massey also said she still supports the photo ID law and that the Miller matter is the only complaint she has heard from someone denied a chance to vote.
“It’s like anything else — there are growing pains in the transition,” the senator said. “But I think it’s important to have proper identification.”
Vi Miller said that, armed with the new documents, the family plans to try again — perhaps today — to get a free photo ID so Libby will be able to vote.
Jennifer Donnals, spokeswoman for the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said photo IDs are free only for those who need them to vote. Otherwise, there is a charge. Clerks are supposed to ask if the card will be for voting only and then have the applicant fill out and sign a form, Donnals said.
“There have been some incidents where someone comes in who has not stated that it was for voting purposes and the question was never asked (by the clerk),” she said. “When we catch something like that, we have refunded the money.”
Blake Fontenay, spokesman for Hargett, said 284 people were turned away from voting on Aug. 2 for lack of an appropriate identification and who received a provisional ballot — either upon request or after a suggestion from a poll worker. Of those, 115 later provided documentation so their votes were counted. The remainder were not validated.
Another 366 people statewide cast provisional ballots for other reasons — often, for example, when the proper precinct for voting was questioned. Of those, only 59 were subsequently counted.
In many cases, Fontenay said, those casting provisional ballots may not seek to have them counted after learning election results and realizing their vote would not have changed the outcome