Editors note: Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s Voter ID law, saying that it was constitutional, in spite of the potential barriers it places in the path of citizens trying to vote.
Russell Baughman, 61, has fought in three conflicts as a part of the United States Army. He was on the front lines in Vietnam in March of 1967 during a battle that has since become known as “the bloodiest week.” He was sent to Panama shortly after the 1989 U.S. invasion as part of a security maintenance force. And he spent six months in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Gulf War in the early ’90s.
His military discharge papers feature a paragraph’s worth of honors and awards, like the national defense service medal, the Vietnam service medal with two bronze service stars, the combat/infantry badge and a purple heart for being wounded during combat.
So when Baughman arrived at his polling place at precinct 52 in Lawrence March 11 for the special election, he wasn’t expecting to have a problem voting in the country he had defended.
But since Indiana passed its new Voter ID law, which requires every voter to have a valid, government-issued photo ID, Baughman’s identification was no longer good enough.
He had with him his expired driver’s license (he rides a bicycle), his Department of Veterans Affairs card (featuring his purple heart endorsement) and, of all things, his voter’s registration card.
But Baughman was told that neither of his photo IDs were valid. His driver’s license didn’t count because it was expired and his Veterans Affairs card didn’t count because it didn’t feature any expiration date at all.
“I’ve been on the voting rolls since 1968,” Baughman said, “and all of a sudden they expect my identity to change. There was no change.”
Baughman was offered a provisional ballot. The print was so small that the polling officials had to fetch a magnifying glass. After filling out a provisional ballot, the voter has 10 days to prove his or her identity at their county clerk’s office. During this time the voter must come up with the appropriate identification.
But herein lay Baughman’s problem.
He had been to the license branch several times, trying to attain a new photo ID card, and had been denied. In order to get a new photo ID, one must have one form of primary identification: an original birth certificate or naturalization card, a U.S. Veterans Universal Access Identification card, a current military ID card or a valid U.S. passport.
Like many citizens in Indianapolis, Baughman had no idea where his birth certificate was. His veteran’s ID card wasn’t being accepted because it was issued by the VA hospital and not by Fort Harrison (even though it took a proof of identity when he was issued the VA card). And though Baughman has spent more time overseas than your average American citizen, the kind of traveling he did never required a passport.
Dee Anne Moore was at the same polling place that day. She is the 52 Lawrence precinct committeewoman and it is her job to make sure the people in her (Democratic) party are registered and out to vote. It’s no surprise, then, that she felt undercut by one of her own precinct’s voters being turned away.
“I remember him saying, ‘I did all this for my country and this is what I get for it,’” Moore said. “It’s just sad that they’re putting all these roadblocks up in front of people who are just trying to practice their constitutional right.”
Moore said that if it is voter fraud the lawmakers are afraid of, their concern is misplaced.
“I’ve been working the polls for 20 years and we have never had anyone attempt voter fraud,” Moore said. “It’s hard enough to get people to come out and impersonate themselves on Election Day!”
Moore decided that she was going to do what she could to help Baughman. She got in touch with an old friend of hers, former state Rep. Mae Dickinson. Dickinson championed American civil liberties during her 15 years representing the 95th District in the Indiana House.
The trio decided to meet at the Lawrence license branch April 23 and, though they knew it would likely amount to nothing, Dickinson would offer her support of Baughman getting a new ID.
By the time they had arrived, however, Baughman was sitting in the waiting room with a smile on his face and a new ID in his hand.
“I guess that I just got the right person at the counter this time,” he said. “That young lady is my hero!”
Since the little posse was already gathered, they took the opportunity to pull some chairs together and talk politics. Dickinson related stories from the fighting she had done while in the Legislature that defended the rights of elderly black citizens who had been born in the South before their births were documented.
When asked why this new voter ID law was passed, Dickinson had a simple answer: “To suppress the poor and the minorities,” she said. “That’s why.”
The license branch manager nervously made his way over to the group, inquired as to what was being discussed and encouraged them to leave. And eventually they did leave because their goal had been met. Russell Baughman was once again an identifiable citizen and is ready to vote in the primary election May 6.
However, the fact remains that, for many in Indianapolis, obtaining the right identification will be even more difficult than Baughman’s saga. Those who have never had a driver’s license and don’t have their original birth certificate still won’t be able to get an ID to vote.
And the catch-22 is that to get a birth certificate or a driver’s license or a passport, you have to have valid ID — the very thing you’re trying to obtain.
Asked why he has gone through so much trouble to get this new ID, Baughman simply pushed a laminated newspaper article, dated Feb. 8, 1969, across the table. The article is from The Indianapolis Star and it reports the death of Ronald Gene Baughman, his brother, who was killed by enemy rifle fire in the Quang Nam Province of Vietnam.
“My brother fought and died for freedom,” Baughman said, “so the least I can ask of my country is to give me some of it.”