ID issues with DMV will leave Virginia voter sitting home

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By Petula Dvorak
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

For the first time in about 70 years, the Republicans won't be getting Jean Earley's vote today.

Not because she has decided to change parties or she's unsure about the candidates. No, Earley will shun the polls today because she has no faith anyone will show any compassion for her current identity crisis.

The 90-year-old Virginia newcomer was so scarred by the bureaucratic netherworld she encountered at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles while trying to get her state identification card that she isn't confident election officials would treat her any better at the polls.

"In my 90 years, I've never experienced anything like this," she told me as we sat in her lovely new living room in Fairfax. She began to unfold the documents and explain the DMV experience that nearly undid her.

Earley and her husband recently moved to Virginia from the very small town of Spearfish, S.D., to be closer to their son and his family. It was also a plus to get away from South Dakota's harsh winters.

Little did Earley realize the Siberia she would face when she entered the Fairfax/Westfields DMV office last month to get her new ID.

She was told to bring a birth certificate, a driver's license and proof that she lived in Fairfax County.

She did this but was rejected because her birth certificate -- a fragile document the color of very weak tea certifying that a baby girl named Jean Patterson entered the world in 1919 -- didn't have the married name that appeared on all her other documents: Jean Patterson Earley.

Well, yeah.

She pulled out her driver's license, her Medicaid card, her bank card -- all kinds of plastic that had both her maiden name and the surname of the Disciples of Christ minister she had married 68 years ago.

In the 1940s, she made the ever-so-slightly feminist decision to keep her maiden name as her middle name, a very Sandra Day O'Conneresque answer to the still-unresolved question of what women should do about their surnames when they get married.

Ever since suffragette and abolitionist Lucy Stone famously kept her maiden name when she was married in 1855, many American women have wondered whether to change, keep or hyphenate their surnames. Today, almost 90 percent of married women take their spouse's name, a slight swing back in the pendulum from the 1970s, when about 80 percent of women did.


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