Op-Ed

My brush with North Carolina voter ID law

clowenst@newsobserver.com

I went to vote during the early voting period in the North Carolina primaries. I am aware of the new law that requires a person to present a photo ID in order to vote.

I gave my driver’s license to a poll worker, HW. He kept it face down and ordered me to spell my name.

Although I go by Rudy, my legal name is Rudravajhala. In order to save time, I requested HW look at my ID. He barked, “You gotta spell it!”

So I took a deep breath and began. “R-U-D-”

He repeated after me and typed each letter. When he typed a B instead of a D, I had to correct him, “It’s not B; it’s D for dog.”

This farce went on a for a while, and each time he made a mistake, I patiently corrected. Meanwhile, voters in adjacent lines came and went briskly. I heaved a sigh of relief when HW finally entered my mouthful of a name into his computer and peered at the monitor. And then I had to pronounce it, and when he tried, he couldn’t get it right.

He asked, “Your address?”

With a tight smile, I gave it. Already my blood pressure was quite high, and I knew if this charade continued, I might be tempted to walk out without voting. But luckily the ordeal came to an end, and with a smirk HW declared that I am the perfect voter. I almost told him that he is the perfect so and so. But I bit my tongue, as I was concerned that in these trigger happy days, HW might summon the police to haul me off.

Since my wife was out of town last week, I drove her to the designated polling place (not the same place I voted) on Election Day. This time poll worker NX subjected my wife to a similar ritual. Keeping her ID face down, he asked her to spell her name and pronounce it.

Our two Caucasian friends who live in different areas of town voted at different polling places. In contrast to our humiliating experience, however, they did not have to pass the spelling test and after a cursory glance at their IDs were allowed to vote.

My wife and I couldn’t help but feel that we were singled out. The poll workers could have simply looked at our IDs and saved a lot of time. That in a sea of white faces at both polling stations my wife and I were the only brown-skinned individuals also led us to suspect that we were victims of racial prejudice. In these days of Trumpism and shameless xenophobia and other assorted phobias, we can’t be blamed if we are paranoid.

I called the N.C. State Board of Elections in Raleigh and was pleasantly surprised when a live person answered. The moment she realized that a difficult situation was at hand, I was transferred to her superior. He listened to my saga patiently and suggested that I lodge a formal complaint with the director of the New Hanover County Board of Elections. He also promised to email the director.

When the director called me, he was understanding and appeared to empathize with my plight. He said that the poll workers overstepped their authority and that they had no reason to subject us to that unnecessary exercise. He said poll workers only have to look at a photo ID to ascertain the bonafide of a voter. He apologized profusely.

In the final analysis, this is a bad law and subject to overinterpretation by overzealous, and possibly rogue, officials.

Rudy Ravindra, Ph.D., lives in Wilmington.

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