Why I can’t drive or vote in Mississippi (yet)

One of the first responsible things everyone should do when they move to a new state is to get a new drivers license and register to vote. Many states have laws on the books stating that this must be done in a reasonably short period after moving. In Mississippi you have 30 days. So it would make perfect sense that my Darling would put this up pretty high up on the  “must get done now” items on our collective list.

He is also incredibly organized, so he put together packets for each of us containing all the required documents (old drivers license, birth certificate, social security card, proof of residency, etc.) as well as throwing in our passports and marriage certificate for good measure. We figured there’d be a wait time, although having grown up and lived much of my life in California, I didn’t think the suffering would be anything remotely comparable to the CA DMV.

There was a line – mostly because we showed up right when they opened and some folks had arrived even sooner and were waiting to be processed. But it moved fairly quickly and we soon found ourselves in front of a somewhat bored-looking woman at the front desk.

“What are y’all here for?” she asked, eyeing the manilla envelopes we both carried.

“We’re here to get new drivers licenses, Ma’am,” my Darling answered. (He’s picked up the Southern tendency of using “sir” and “ma’am” to punctuate sentences).

She loaded a couple of applications onto clipboards. “You got your birth certificate and social security card?”

Mark opened his envelope and handed them to her. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“An’ proof of residency?”

The cable bill followed. “Yes, Ma’am.”

She examined the documents and then handed them back, along with the clipboard and a paper number ticket. “Jus’ have a seat and wait until your number’s called.” She looked at me. “An’ you?”

“Same thing. I need a new drivers license.” I handed her my documentation.

She looked it over. When she got to my yellowed and worn birth certificate, her brows furrowed and her eyes narrowed. “The name’s different on your birth certificate.”

I was ready for this. “Yes, I know. I switched the order of my first and middle names when I was in grade school.”

I didn’t tell her why. The truth of the matter was that I had a science teacher that insisted on addressing me by my first name (which I never used). After a semester of being chastised and teased by other students for not responding when called upon, I made the decision to change the order of my first and middle names to save future confusion. Nobody seemed to mind and I had lived for the next 40 years without anyone seeming to care. That is, until I got to the Jackson, MS DMV.

“Well, Ma’am, your license has to reflect what it says on your birth certificate. So that’s what you’ll need to put on the form.”

I immediately had visions of the future hassles of trying to explain why my drivers license didn’t match my social security card, passport, school records, children’s birth certificates, marriage license, credit history and ever other piece of identifying information that had been generated for the past several decades. “But my US Passport, my social security card and marriage license all say my name is Elizabyth Ann.”

“Don’t matter. That’s all wrong. It’s all gotta match. You’re gonna have to go back and change all of it. Social security card.. Passport… everything. I don’t know why they gave you a social security card with the wrong name in the first place…”

Apparently in her mind the Jackson branch of the Mississippi DMV has more credibility in their identification process than the US Government and states of both California and Oregon, combined.

I protested, as politely as I could – knowing this was a battle that I wasn’t going to be able to win on my charm alone. “Ummm… no. That’s not going to work. How do  I get this changed?”

“Well the only way to fix it is to go back to the state where you were born and get your birth certificate revised.”

?!?!?!?!?!?!

My poor darling husband rolled his eyes and handed the clipboard and ticket back to her. This was going to be a bit more complicated than he had envisioned when he left the house.

I took a deep breath. Legal name changes exist in this country and they can’t possibly  require editing birth certificates. I tried a different approach. “What if I go get my name changed legally in the state of Mississippi. Is there some kind of documentation I could bring that would show that my name was legally changed?”

She scowled, suspicion clouding her face while she tried to figure out how I was trying to scam the system. After all, anyone wanting to change their name from their legally given name must have something to hide. “If you did this when you were ten, how come you never legally changed it with the court?”

I wanted to scream, “Because I was ten!” Instead I took another deep breath to remain calm and repeated my question in the sweetest and most polite tone I could muster. “What kind of documentation do you need to see that my name was legally changed.”

“Well if you want to legally change your name, you’ll need to go down to the county court house an’ do it there,” came the reply. “Then jus’ bring the document from the court an’ you can get your Mississippi drivers license.” She puffed out her chest just a little as she handed me back my documents, proud that she was able to thwart me from trying to slip something as heinous as a switched first and middle name past the Jackson Mississippi DMV.

It took half a day and a scavenger-hunt-like experience before we were able to find the correct desk in the right building at the county courthouse to (supposedly) start the process. Unfortunately, the clerks were just as clueless about how to change a name as I was.

“Is there a form?”

Blank stares. “Na,” one clerk responded. “I don’t think so. I think y’all jus’ write a letter to the judge.”

The other one nodded. Both seemed unsure enough about that answer that I wasn’t sure I’d risk it. Either way, there were no official forms to be had at that department, so we left empty-handed.

My Darling went back to the DMV the next day, got his drivers license without any trouble, and was able to at least vote in the run-off elections. But sadly, I’m still embroiled in the process of getting a legal document to change my name to what it’s been for most of my life. Wish me luck.

And this is why I don’t drive or vote in Mississippi (yet).

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