Routine quest to get ID becomes an ordeal
By Mark Taylor Post-Tribune correspondent September 1, 2012 11:00PM
Eugene Sims. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet
To learn more
If you have questions about voting identification requirements, contact the League of Women Voters of the Calumet Area at 228-1899 or click onto their website at www.vote411.org.
Updated: October 3, 2012 6:07AM
Eugene Sim is living a Catch 22.
More than one month ago Sim, 62, applied to renew his Indiana identification card.
Sim is a recently homeless man with no permanent address who has lived in Indiana for nearly six years and has no car or steady job. He rides a bike to get around, takes odd jobs and lives in the homes of a friend, who allows him to stay there in lieu of the repairs he makes on his rental properties, trading work for rent.
In July Sim rode his bike to the Hammond branch of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles to renew his state-issued ID, which was slated to expire on his Aug. 15 birthday.
However, the license branch staff denied him, saying that the homeless shelter address he had on the card from five years ago is no longer valid. The staff told him he could use my mailing address, where he has occasionally received important mail. We returned to the license branch together so I could vouch for him in what I thought would be a routine event that would take minutes to complete. But it took me three more visits and several hours to produce the precise documentation the BMV staff required to prove that I lived where I said I did, though I’ve resided at the same address for 12 years. I had plenty of identification, just not exactly what the state said it required.
Finally, the BMV staff said they would mail his new ID to my address within seven to 10 business days. After not receiving it for more than three weeks, we called the BMV and were told the ID card was mailed July 21. Since it never arrived at my house, Sim and I asked the BMV to mail it to the Hammond branch.
On Aug. 21 the local branch called my home and said Sim’s ID card had arrived. A few days later — Sim has no phone and it’s sometimes hard to reach him — we went to the license branch to pick it up, hopefully closing this frustrating saga. A manager named Teena, told him that even though the card had arrived and Sim could produce his recently expired ID card, Social Security card and other identification proving who he is, she refused to give it to him without two documents showing he lived at my house. She said utility bills or bank or benefit statements issued within the last 60 days would satisfy those requirements.
But Sim doesn’t live at my house, which the license branch staff already knew since they were the ones who first told us he could use my home address as his mailing address on his ID card. And since he doesn’t live in my home, there were no bank statements, bills or other mail sent to my address in his name. He has no bank account, no assets requiring insurance and while he hopes to apply for Social Security, he cannot obtain it without identification.
Eventually, we were able to confirm with the U.S. Post Office that Sim’s ID card was mailed to my house, but a new postal carrier did not deliver it and mistakenly sent it back. Through no fault of his own, Sim again was caught in a dilemma.
Yet the branch manager would not relent. No address documentation, no ID.
“Sorry,” she said unconvincingly. “It’s our policy.”
If the card had been delivered to my house as planned, he would not have needed to produce two documents showing he lived there. But when it comes to obtaining his ID card, nothing has gone as planned.
Just because Sim owns no property, is he any less a Hoosier than me? Because he is poor, should he have fewer rights than me? Because he may not vote the way our governor or legislature wishes, should he be denied this most basic American right and be disenfranchised? Who or what is the BMV protecting and from whom? Sim is no terrorist and has never been arrested or convicted of voter fraud.
State BMV officials told the Post-Tribune in July that the strict documentation requirements have nothing to do with Indiana’s Voter ID law, one of the toughest in the country. That law, like similar versions passed by Republican legislatures in 32 other states in recent years, allegedly is intended to stop voter fraud, though there is little evidence of the kind of voter impersonation fraud the law was intended to halt in Indiana or any other state.
Organizations like the League of Women Voters, American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP have challenged the laws — so far unsuccessfully — claiming the strict requirements erect barriers to people trying to obtain the documentation they need to vote. Those organizations liken some of the laws’ strict requirements to the poll taxes once used in the South to discourage blacks from voting. Some Republican legislators even publicly admitted that the voter ID laws they passed will help defeat President Barack Obama in November. Many poor and elderly, particularly minorities, historically tend to vote Democratic. And national voters’ rights organizations fear the ID laws will suppress voting, particularly among poor people like Sim, who need identification cards to vote.
BMV Deputy Commissioner Dennis Rosebrough said the tough documentation requirements — Sim has now made five unsuccessful trips to the Hammond BMV branch to obtain an Indiana ID card — were imposed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and adopted by Indiana in 2010.
But Sim, like me, is a native-born American. He grew up in neighboring Calumet City, Ill., and worked most of his life, once managing a 7-Eleven store and working as a foreman at an Arkansas boat manufacturer. He has lived in Indiana since 2006. The tough new state requirements demand specific documents that many Hoosiers will have difficulty producing and may require the purchase of other identification, according to a new study by New York University’s Brennan Justice Center.
Sim said the experience has left him angry and humiliated.
“I feel like they don’t want me to get it. They keep telling me there’s something new required. My ID is right there behind the counter, but they won’t give it to me,” he said. “And that’s not right. I need it for a lot of things. If a cop stops me riding my bike on the street he wants to see a current ID and now mine is expired, even though I tried to do the right thing. I applied in plenty of time. It’s like they’re blaming me for things that aren’t my fault. These people work for the state. I thought they were supposed to help us.”
Strangely, within the last year, my 22-year-old son and I each renewed our Indiana driver’s licenses without complications. I didn’t even have to show identification. My wife renewed her driver’s license online. Undoubtedly, Homeland Security approved those processes. But we’re home and car owners. We’re middle class, far from wealthy, but not poor.
How many other Eugene Sims are there? In November how many other poor, minority, handicapped or elderly Hoosiers — many of them lifelong voters — will be denied the right to vote because they lack the required identification? And why aren’t more people outraged?