This story first appeared at BillMoyers.com.
You may have been voting in the same polling place for longer than your state legislators have been alive, only to find yourself disenfranchised as a result of new restrictive voting laws passed by Republicans as a “solution” to the non-existent problem of voter identification fraud.
It happened to 92-year-old Ruby Barber and 84-year-old Dorothy Card in Texas. In Tennessee, 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper and 93-year-old Thelma Mitchell — who had cleaned the state Capitol for 30 years — faced similar problems, as did 86-year-old World War II vet Paul Caroll in Ohio, 97-year-old Beth Hiller in Kansas and a 92-year-old Alabama woman who was too embarrassed by the incident to reveal her name to the media. Even 90-year-old former Speaker of the House Jim Wright had to jump through a number of hoops to get a suitable ID from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
In Yesterday’s Guardian, 87-year-old Wisconsin resident Ruthelle Frank spoke out about her own experience:
On 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.
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.
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?
A 2012 analysis of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law by Morning Callfound that “those over age 65 are more likely than any other age group to be caught without the identification they will need to vote in the presidential election.” Many older Americans don’t drive. Some lack birth certificates and other documents necessary to obtain a state-issued ID. As with Ruthelle Frank, the costs of obtaining the proper documents may be prohibitive on a fixed income. And some live many miles from the nearest DMV, and are too frail to travel the distance.
In 2012, BillMoyers.com producer Lauren Feeney spoke with two Pennsylvania women who had faced similar challenges: Laila Stones, a retired nurse working towards a culinary degree; and Ana Gonzalez, a community organizer, mother of four and grandmother of 12. The two women were “stuck in a real-life catch 22: You need a birth certificate to get a government-issued photo ID, but you need a photo ID to get a birth certificate.”
Watch the video below…