Virginia McLaurin, 107, sits in her apartment in Northwest Washington. She has been trying for nearly a month to get a government-issued photo ID but is entangled in a bureaucratic Catch-22. (Courtland Milloy/The Washington Post)
Columnist

Virginia McLaurin, who recently turned 107, was still basking in the glow of her dance with President Obama in February. A White House video of the meeting has been viewed nearly 66 million times. The attention has resulted in invitations to New York and Los Angeles for media interviews.

To board an airplane, however, McLaurin needs to replace a long-lost government-issued photo ID.

To get a D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles non-drivers’ photo ID, she needs a birth certificate from South Carolina, where she was born. To get the birth certificate, she needs the photo ID. A classic bureaucratic Catch-22.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get that face card,” McLaurin told me during a recent visit to her apartment in Northwest Washington. “I was birthed by a midwife and the birthday put in a Bible somewhere. I don’t know if they even had birth certificates back then.”

Virginia McLaurin met President Obama and the first lady on Thursday to celebrate Black History Month. After the White House released footage of McLaurin’s visit, the video immediately went viral. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

On the bright side, I noted, at least the District didn’t require a photo ID to vote. McLaurin treasured her right to vote and would still be able to cast her ballot in the D.C. primary come June.

But roughly 30 states have adopted an array of restrictive voter ID laws, and elderly citizens who live in those states seemed particularly at risk of having their rights denied.

“I’d pray long and hard to my God if they ever tried to do something like that to me,” McLaurin said, her voice rising in righteous indignation. So much for my notion of the bright side.

In Asheville, N.C., a state DMV office denied 86-year-old Reba Miller Bowser a photo ID in February even though she had a birth certificate, Social Security card, a Medicare card, cable bill and apartment lease.

The reason given: Bowser needed a document that showed she had legally changed her maiden name to her married name.

Fortunately for her, the DMV reconsidered the decision and issued an ID in time for her to vote in the state’s primary elections last month.

“Yes, the DMV is bending over backwards in my mother’s individual situation,” Ed Bowser told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “But if the DMV hadn’t been called to task by the media and there hadn’t been so much outrage and concern, would they be doing it?”

McLaurin in Busboys and Poets on Feb. 22. (Kate Patterson/For The Washington Post)

McLaurin’s dealings with the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles have not worked out as well.

She and her son, Felipe Cardoso, met with a supervisor at the DMV. They were told that the Department of Homeland Security had instituted tougher guidelines for issuing photo IDs. Cardoso was given an application that he could fill out requesting a birth certificate from a bureau of vital records in Columbia, S.C. He would need to include a $12 non-refundable records search fee — and a copy of a government-issued photo ID.

“When we receive applications without proper identification, we reject them automatically; we do not process them,” the instructions read.

The District’s DMV actually issued McLaurin a temporary ID for use when she leased an apartment last month. But the image of her is barely recognizable and, as Cardoso understood it, new Department of Homeland Security rules do not recognize those kinds of temporary IDs as sufficient for obtaining either a permanent government-issue ID, birth certificate or even a plane ticket.

“It’s sad to see my mother having to stand in lines, getting tired,” Cardoso said. “She can’t understand how her picture could be in all those newspapers and all over the Internet, how so many people could recognize her on the street and want to take selfies with her, and she can’t even get a photo ID.”

At one point, McLaurin seemed on the verge of blaming herself for the predicament. She could have gotten her original DMV photo ID replaced many years ago after a purse was snatched with the identification card inside.

She couldn’t recall exactly when the incident happened. But she could recall how it happened.

“I was standing on 16th Street, waiting for a bus, and these three fellows passed me in a car and went one block, then I saw two of them walking back together, like they were playing,” she said. “Before I knew anything, one of them had walked up to me and said, ‘I’ll take this.’ ”

She motioned as if removing a purse strap from her shoulder.

“I didn’t get any of my things back,” she said. “Then I started putting off replacing them because I didn’t want to think about carrying around stuff that people would steal.”

McLaurin isn’t sure she’s up for taking a long plane ride. Having made it out of the cotton fields of Chesterfield, S.C., to a dance with Obama at the White House may be enough travel for one lifetime.

Moreover, she seemed more upset about people being denied the right to vote because of voter ID laws than about not being able to get a photo ID for herself.

Nevertheless, a copy of her stolen photo ID ought to be on file at the DMV. And it would be nice if she finally got it back.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.