The Rachel Maddow Show | December 13, 2011
>>> if you cast your first vote anytime after the advent of push-button telephones, by law you should never have encountered a poll tax . this is a receipt for a poll tax in florida. before 1964 , it was still legal in this country to charge a tax, to charge money for the privilege of voting. the 24th amendment put an end to that. at least in federal elections . the next year in 1965 , president lyndon johnson signed the voting rights act which made it illegal to tax people wanting to cast a ballot in a state election or local election as well. but before then, you could make people pay money as a condition of voting in this country. the voters most affected by the poll tax and other barriers to voting were the ones that entrenched officials most did not want voting. african- americans generally. and generally african- americans in the south. poll taxes were designed to keep the descendants of slaves away from the voting booth . this history is part of why the story of dorothy cooper was a big deal this year. 96 years old, female, african-american. dorothy cooper managed to vote in nearly every election after 1960 . she missed one because she moved. other than that, she voted in every election. this year tennessee republicans passed a law that said you could no longer vote in tennessee unless you had documentation you'd never had to show before and that many thousands of tennesseeans do not have. including dorothy cooper. the many documents miss cooper did have did not match tennessee 's requirements for obtaining the new i.d. the state said she'd now need to vote. so tennessee told her she could not have one. which would mean she wouldn't be allowed to go down to the polls and vote. that happened in october. now meet ruth alfrank from wisconsin . she is 84 years old. so far as she can remember, she's voted in every election for the past 66 years. this year the new republican majority in wisconsin decided to pass a bill like the one republicans passed in tennessee . as in tennessee , the wisconsin bill says you can't vote in wisconsin anymore unless you have documentation you never had to show before. in wisconsin they say you can apply for a special state -approved i.d. that will allow you to cast a vote. the special cards are free. they'd have to be otherwise they'd amount to an illegal unconstitutional poll tax , right? to get one of those free special state i.d. cards for voting you need to show a birth certificate . if for whatever reason you do not have your birth certificate , lots of people don't, close relatives of mine do not, it is something not everyone has even if you have one. if you don't have your birth certificate , getting one costs money. one of the reasons people don't have a birth certificate , particularly older people in the country is if they were born at home rather than a hospital. that's the case for ruth al frank . she was born at home, doesn't have a birth certificate . her mother wrote down the day and year of birth in the family bible. ruth has never had a birth certificate . at the age of 84, she has to pay the state of wisconsin before she can cast a ballot. voting could actually cost ruth al frank much more than the usual 20 bucks for a birth certificate . her birth was recorded by the state register of deeds , but state register of deeds spelled her name wrong. way back then. it could cost $200, maybe more to get not just a birth certificate but one with the name spelled right. so she can get a state -approved special i.d. so she can vote. which she has been doing without a hitch for 66 years.
>> i may never vote again.
>> the state vital record division advised ruth al frank to buy the birth certificate with her name spelled wrong on it. they said she should see if the dmv in the state will say it's good enough to vote. quote, if she gets it, great. and if not, the further $200 or more. asked for comment, the republican county chairman where ruth lives says his party, quote, applauds the imp lem take of the law. the aclu filed suit against the state of wisconsin in federal court with ruth al frank one of several named plaintiffs who say they're being charged in unconstitutional poll taxes in wisconsin . governor scott walker is among the named defendants. nationwide, after republicans took over so many state legislatures in last year's elections, they spent this year looking for ways to solidify those gains maybe. including making it harder to cast a ballot. whenever you cut the time for absentee voting or early voting , whenever you make it difficult to register to vote for block people from voting unless they show documentation they never had to show before and not everybody in the state has, the people most affected by rule changes like that tend to be the poor, elderly, students, minorities, the same people who tend to vote democratic. the same ones entrenched republican officials in these republican-controlled states would rather not see at the polls on election day . the new report from the naacp says a quarter of all african- americans and twice as many latinos as white voters do not have state approved photo i.d.s the way doughero dorothy cooper didn't in tennessee . this matters in mississippi, you'll be required to show i.d. at the polls. the cards for voting are free. the birth certificate you need to get an i. d. costs 15 bucks in one of the poorest states in the nation. 15 bucks to vote which is a de facto poll tax in the state of mississippi . in wisconsin , a bill was put in last week to make birth certificates free if you need one for voting. he has 20 co-sponsors, only one of them a republican. mostly wisconsin republicans say the same things republicans everywhere say about the new laws that make it harder to vote. they want to protect the integrity of elections for people like 84-year-old ruth al frank , even if they protect her right out of the process. ruth al frank was born paralyzed on one side of her body. with her age and disability, she could get an exception from the new law if she claims to be indefinitely confined. she could still vote for free. she does not want to use the indefinitely confined exemption because she is able to shuffle off to meetings at the town hall where she serves on the town board. she gets around well enough. no way is miss ruth going to claim she's indefinitely confined. she says, quote, that would be lying. and lying would be wrong. so sleep better, wisconsin . your elections are safe from the likes of ruth al frank . citizen, village, leader and voter for 66 years. if only your elections were safe from the lawmakers who have worked so hard this year making it so hard for ruth al