By Ruthelle Frank
In October 2011, an article appeared in my local paper reporting that, in order to vote in the next election, everyone was going to need a state-issued identity card for the first time. At 85 years old, I didn’t have one, because I’m handicapped and so I never drove a car or needed an ID.
The newspaper said that I’d have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and register for a card, and it had a list of the documents that I needed to bring. I had everything — except for the legal birth certificate. I’m not sure my parents ever gave that to me. I did have a baptism certificate that was notarized, but that was all.
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My daughter drove me down to the DMV with my stack of paperwork, and we tried to ask the receptionist if I had everything, but she just handed me a form with a mess of questions on it. I told her I didn’t have a birth certificate, but she didn’t say I couldn’t go further, so we sat down and I filled it out and brought it back to her.
She barely looked at it, handed it back to me and sent me to the photo department, so I thought we were all set. But after the photo person took my picture, he sent me to another woman, and I handed her the form and my stack of papers, and she just threw my baptism certificate back at me and said it wasn’t valid and I couldn’t get an ID.
She even said, “How do I know you’re not an illegal alien?!”
That really hurt. I’d lived in the same house for 85 years, I’d served on the village board for 18 years, and then they told me that I wasn’t going to be allowed to vote.
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I always voted. I’ve been registered to vote since I was 21 (the voting age wasn’t 18 until later), and I have never missed a presidential election.
My polling place is just one block down the street and one block over, so I could always walk to get there. Maybe a couple of times it was a little further away, four blocks or something, but never so far that I couldn’t walk. Voting places are close to home. But I had to get my daughter to drive me to the DMV because it’s 5 miles away. Thinking of all the other poor people, there are lots of us who might be able to get out to vote but not to get to the DMV, not if you don’t drive or don’t have anyone to take you there. And then you get there, and they tell you you don’t have the right piece of paper and maybe you’re an illegal alien who never should have voted?
I left the DMV and thought, “It just isn’t right.” I felt so downtrodden. As handicapped as I’ve been my whole life, as old as I am, it just felt like I wasn’t as good as anyone else.
I did try to get a birth certificate after that. Eventually, they told me I could get one, but I’d have to pay anything from $20-$200, since there was a mistake with my name that had to be corrected. That’s a lot of money! I’m so old now, what am I going to do with a $200 birth certificate? Hang it on the wall?
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No one should have to pay a fee to be able to vote.
Everybody should have the chance to express their desire of how they want to have their country run. Just because you’re old or blind doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the right to vote. Everybody, if they want to, should be able to vote.
But you shouldn’t be able to collect campaign funds from out-of-state donors, and then come back here and take away the right of people in your state to vote in the next election. That’s not right.
Ruthelle Frank is a plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin over its voter identification law. The ACLU filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court Oct. 2 seeking to block the state from enforcing the law in the upcoming mid-term elections. Frank offered this account to Megan Carpentier, the deputy U.S. opinion editor at The Guardian in New York.
Photo: Courtesy of ACLU
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