Pass A Law Requiring A Photo ID To Vote, Then Shut Down Access To Photo IDs
A little more than two years after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, Alabama is doing even more to disenfranchise voters, particularly African Americans. On Wednesday, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced that it would close 31 driver’s license offices throughout the state, meaning that 29 counties will lack a place where citizens can get a driver’s license. This doesn’t just mean people will have to travel further to secure the legal ability to drive, hindering their ability to travel to work or to their children’s schools. For many, since government-issued photo IDs are required to vote in Alabama, this decision will limit their access to the polls. A shocking 8 out of the 10 Alabama counties with the highest nonwhite registered voters will lose their main method to get voter ID.
The move is an affront to democracy in a state that already has a terrible record. In CAP Action’s recent Health of State Democracies report – which assessed all 50 states and the District of Columbia across 22 factors in the areas of Accessibility of the Ballot, Representation in Government, and Influence in the Political System – Alabama scored dead last in the nation: 51st out of 51.
In 2011, Alabama lawmakers passed a voter ID law, making it illegal to vote in Alabama without a government-issued photo ID. Voter ID laws, implemented under the guise of reducing voter fraud—which is nearly nonexistent—reduce voter registration and turnout and present significant obstacles to voting, especially for people of color. Alabama’s voter ID law, like a flurry of voter ID laws passed across the country in 2011-12, was backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – a secretive non-profit backed by the Kochs and other corporate interests, which works to promote model state legislation governing everything from renewable energy to, as in this case, voting rights.
The closure of 31 driver’s license offices is what drives all of this home. Pass a law requiring a photo ID to vote, then shut down access to photo IDs. Here are a few specifics about the consequences of this move:
- This is a dramatic reduction in access to government identification. Alabama residents in 29 of the state’s 67 counties now lack access to a place where citizens can get a driver’s license.
- The decision disproportionately impacts Alabama’s black population. Of the 29 counties, 15 are in the “Black Belt,” the majority African-American region that is home to some of the state’s poorest people. A shocking 8 out of the 10 Alabama counties with the highest nonwhite registered voters will lose their main method to get voter ID.
- Many voters will have to travel long distances to be able to get the necessary tools to vote. Residents of Greenville, AL, for example, not only lost their driver’s license office but those in four surrounding counties. They will have to drive 45 miles to Montgomery to get a voter ID, and must do so between the hours of 8am and 5pm on weekdays.
Actions like these in Alabama underscore the dire need to restore the Voting Rights Act. This bipartisan legislation, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in August, was meant to protect people of color, particularly African Americans, from a long history of discrimination and violence around voting in elections. But the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby vs. Holder gutted the VRA, removing the requirement that states with a history of racial discrimination have to ask either the Department of Justice or a three-judge court in Washington, D.C., for approval before making any changes to voting laws.
The results, as seen here in Alabama, have been devastating. All nine of the states that used to be protected by the VRA now receive a grade of ‘D’ or worse on access to voting. Congress could choose to restore the protections erased by the Supreme Court, but have yet to act, despite the fact it has previously reauthorized the VRA four times by huge margins, most recently in 2006. Congress has a proactive measure to restore the VRA, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, but only one Senate Republican, Senator Murkowski [R-AK], supports the bill.
BOTTOM LINE: Voting is an inalienable right that needs to be protected. Alabama’s decision to thwart the ability for voters to exercise their rights, especially black voters, is voter suppression, plain and simple. It’s time to restore the VRA to protect voters and improve our democracy.