Meet Ruthelle Frank, an 84-year-old woman living in Wisconsin. She is one of millions of people who are at risk of losing their right to vote in November as result of wide-ranging state-by-state efforts to deny people the access to vote.
The good news is that after ten months of advocacy by the American Civil Liberties Union, she was able to vote last Tuesday in Wisconsin, but her fight isn’t over yet.
A Wisconsin judge declared a state law requiring people to show photo ID in order to be allowed to vote unconstitutional before the primary, issuing a permanent injunction blocking the state from implementing the measure.
"Without question, where it exists, voter fraud corrupts elections and undermines our form of government," wrote Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess in his decision. "The legislature and governor may certainly take aggressive action to prevent its occurrence. But voter fraud is no more poisonous to our democracy than voter suppression. Indeed, they are two heads on the monster."
The troubling news is that it took multiple lawsuits and 10 months to make it happen. And she still may not be able to vote in November.
Ruthelle has been voting since 1948 without any problems until the voter ID requirement in Wisconsin was enacted. Now she needs to have an ID from the motor vehicle department, and she needs a valid birth certificate to prove her identity. Unfortunately there is a discrepancy on the spelling of her father’s name and her name on the birth certificate, which could require her to pay in addition in order to prove identity.
In the YouTube interview she laments, “I may never vote again."
The Center for American Progress issued a report that said new barriers to voting have been enacted by conservative state legislatures with the aim of disenfranchising voters from among certain groups such as low-income voters, minorities and college students. Those constituencies have tended to favor Democrats.
As of March 2012, there are eight states with photo voter ID laws containing specific criteria for what qualifies as “identification” for voting purposes.
Some states require that identification be state-issued and only for the state a person is voting in; some prohibit college IDs; some demand that the full name and address on the card be current; while some require that an ID card has an expiration date.
Looking at those stipulations, it’s not hard to imagine how low-income citizens, African Americans, Latino Americans, college students, and elderly voters—groups the Brennan Center has identified as the most burdened by new voter laws—might get tangled up on voter day.
It is estimated that 5.5 million voting age African Americans will not be able to vote in November. Other groups like Native Americans, transgenered people, newly divorced, newly married, people who have lost their homes all could have information on their driver’s license that is not current and therefore would be turned away at the polls.
The costs for these groups will be more than an inconvenience: fees for new birth and marriage certificates, hours lost waiting in lines for updated materials and transportation costs to handle it all.
The $200 fees and paper work alone for someone like 84-year-old Ruthelle Frank could prevent her from being able to pursuit the changes on her birth certificate.
With eight states already having strict voter ID requirements, the discriminatory practice will impact the November presidential election. And there are 31 more states looking to follow with voter ID requirements in the future, which some predict could be enacted before November.
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American Civil Liberties Union