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Voter ID becomes law of unintended consequences

Wausau Daily Herald

Ruthelle Frank sits in her home with some of her identifying documents that were not good enough to get her a state ID. (AP Photo/The Wausau Daily Herald, Dan Young)

BROKAW, Wis. (AP) – Ruthelle Frank was born on Aug. 21, 1927, in her home in Brokaw. It was a hard birth; there were complications. A doctor had to come up from Wausau to see that she and her mother made it through.

Frank ended up paralyzed on the left side of her body. To this day, she walks with a shuffle and doesn’t have much use of one arm.

Her mother recorded her birth in the family Bible. Frank still has it. A few months later, when Ruthelle was baptized, her mother got a notarized certificate of baptism. She still has that document, too.

What she never had – and in 84 years, never needed – was a birth certificate.

But without a birth certificate, Frank cannot get a state ID card. And without a state ID card, according to Wisconsin’s new voter ID law, she won’t be able to vote next year.

A diminutive, fiery woman who has voted in every election since 1948 and is an elected official herself, Frank finds the prospect of being turned away from the polls infuriating.

“It’s really crazy,” she said, sitting at her kitchen table with evidence of her identity spread out before her – the baptism certificate, a Social Security card, a Medicare statement, a checkbook. “I’ve got all this proof. You mean to tell me that I’m not a U.S. citizen? That I don’t live at 123 First St. in Brokaw?
“It’s just stupid.”

Though Frank never had a birth certificate, the state Register of Deeds in Madison has a record of her birth. It can generate a birth certificate for her – for a fee. Normally, the cost is $20.

“I look at that like paying a fee to vote,” Frank said.

And for Frank, that might not be the end of it. The attending physician at Frank’s birth misspelled her maiden name, which was Wedepohl. To get a birth certificate that has correct information, she will have to petition a court to amend the document – a weekslong process that could cost $200 or more.

She’s heard different things from different sources, but one email from the State Vital Records Division advised her to pay the $20 for an incorrect birth certificate, then go to the DMV and see if that office is willing to accept it. Roll the dice, in other words.

“If she gets it (the state ID), great!” the email said.

And if not, it continued, then she can begin the lengthy, potentially costly process of getting the document fixed. Then she can return to the DMV and try again.

Frank’s case is just one example of how the voter ID law is creating complications even for qualified voters in Wisconsin – and in some cases, potentially disenfranchising them.

“I don’t think it’s an isolated situation,” said Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, which is suing the state over the law. “We’re hearing about cases from all around the state. Often they are older people who have been voting (their whole lives). All of a sudden they’re not going to be able to vote, and that’s really terrible.”

A 2005 study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Employment and Training Institute found an estimated 177,399 Wisconsin residents 65 and older do not have a driver’s license or state photo ID – 23 percent of that population. The study estimated that another 98,247 residents ages 35 through 64 lack IDs. Disparities were especially pronounced among racial minorities.

State Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, whose office has worked with Frank, said she has been visiting senior centers and assisted living facilities to discuss the impact of the law – and has found many seniors are angry about what they find to be confusing changes.

“These people are proud of their history of voting,” Seidel said. “The overwhelming reaction has been that (the new requirements) are totally unnecessary.”

The number of Wisconsin residents without birth certificates is hard to pin down. But while the particulars of Frank’s case seem rare, the situation is common enough that state Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, has circulated a bill that would waive the state’s birth certificate fees for people who are trying to vote. Holperin said he will introduce the bill soon, but its prospects are unclear: Of 11 cosponsors in the Senate and eight in the Assembly as of recent, only one, Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon, is a Republican.

The voter ID law was a longtime cause of state Republicans, and was passed this year mostly along party lines. Sen. Pam Galloway, a Republican from Wausau, was unavailable for comment recently, according to one of her spokesmen. Gov. Scott Walker’s spokesman Cullen Werwie, the Republican Party of Wisconsin and Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, the voter ID law’s main sponsor, each did not respond to separate requests for comment.

“The photo ID law was put into place to protect voters and give them a means of confidence that their vote will not be hijacked by fraudulent voting,” said Republican Party of Marathon County Chairman Bruce Trueblood in an emailed statement. “In today’s society, it is very difficult to function without some type of photo ID. One must present a photo ID to open a bank account … and to buy cold medication at the pharmacy.

“Asking someone to prove their eligibility to vote is no different, and the Republican Party of Marathon County applauds the implementation of the law,” Trueblood said.

Another solution offered by one of the bureaucrats Ruthelle Frank talked to in one of her many afternoons spent on the phone to this or that Madison office: She could claim she is “indefinitely confined,” a category of people granted an exception in the new voter ID law.

Even recalling the suggestion rankles.

“That would be real voter fraud,” she said. “I’m not good at walking – I couldn’t win a marathon. But I go down to the Village Hall for meetings. I get around OK.

“I don’t want to be a liar,” she said. “I’m a pretty straightforward person. That would be lying.”
It’s true. A lifelong resident of Brokaw, Frank has served on the Brokaw Village Board since 1996. Each month she walks the couple of blocks from her home to the Village Hall for meetings.

While Frank spoke to a Daily Herald reporter at her home, her daughter Rochelle (also a Village Board member) and her son Randy chimed in occasionally with details. They were evidently outraged by the burden the new law has placed on their mother. Each made the point that their mother is especially tenacious and, with help from the family, willing to fight this battle – something that’s likely not true of other senior citizens.

What about those Wisconsin residents, they asked, who don’t have Frank’s feisty constitution? What about those who don’t have family members to help them navigate the bureaucracies?

Frank herself agrees.

“I feel for other people out there” who don’t have IDs, she said. “I think they just won’t vote.”

Information from: Wausau Daily Herald,

More on the voter ID law


  1. She’s never had a driver’s license?

  2. I lived in WI for a few yrs & my best friend is from Wausau; I remember WI as a progressive state- what has happened?!!!

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