Alabama Demands Voter ID—Then Closes Driver’s License Offices In Black Counties

What happens when a state with a tough voter ID law suddenly makes it much harder for minorities to get driver’s licenses? We are about to find out in Alabama.

Facing a budget crisis, Alabama has shuttered 31 driver’s license offices, many of them in counties with a high proportion of black residents. Coming after the state recently put into effect a tougher voter ID law, the closures will cut off access — particularly for minorities — to one of the few types of IDs accepted.

According to a tally by AL.com columnist John Archibald, eight of the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters saw their driver’s license offices closed.

“Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one,” Archibald wrote.

 

Archibald also noted that many of the counties where offices were closed also leaned Democrat.

“But maybe it’s not racial at all, right? Maybe it’s just political. And let’s face it, it may not be either.” he wrote. “But no matter the intent, the consequence is the same.”

The voter ID law passed in 2011 — which tightened previous ID requirements –includes driver’s licenses on a very short list of government-issued photo IDs accepted in order to vote in the state. If a resident does not have the proper ID he or she must get two poll officials to vouch for his or her identity. Additionally, residents without photo ID can apply for a free state photo ID. The law was put into effect in 2014.

Before Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed the voter ID legislation, the ACLU-Alabama said it would have “a disproportionate negative impact on minority voters,” noting that 62 percent of black Alabama residents depend on public transport, compared to 34 percent of whites.

Challenges to voter ID laws are being litigated across the country, with a Texas case expected to end up in the Supreme Court. In that case, the appeals court ruled that the Texas law violated the Voting Rights Act because it had a discriminatory effect on minority voters.

A Department of Justice official explained in 2014 that the agency challenged the Texas law, but not the Alabama law, because at the time only Texas’ law required some residents to drive hundreds of miles to attain the proper ID.

In 2013, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, a case which originated in Alabama.

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