Ruthelle Frank was born 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. “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 weeks-long 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.