Thursday, October 08, 2015

Alabama governor says driver-license offices in rural, black areas will open one day a month

UPDATE, Oct. 19: "In a change of course, Gov. Robert Bentley Friday evening announced that the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency would return driver’s license examiners to 31 rural counties," Brian Lyman reports for the Montgomery Advertiser. "A statement from the governor’s office said an examiner would spend at least one day each month in each of the counties slated to lose part-time examiners under budget cuts announced by ALEA at the end of last month."

Alabama's plan to close 31 part-time rural Department of Motor Vehicle offices, coupled with the state's voter ID law that went into effect last year, is making it more difficult for rural black residents who typically vote Democrat to vote, states the editorial board of The New York Times. Blacks make up more than 75 percent of residents in the 31 counties. Alabama is making it difficult for rural blacks to vote, opines New York Times editorial board.

Alabama’s voter ID law "requires voters to bring a government-issued photo ID to the polls," states the times. Anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 of the state's registered voters lack a driver’s license or other acceptable photo ID. "The state offers a special voter-ID card for people without any other photo identification, although only 5,000 were issued before the 2014 elections . . . These laws have proliferated around the country, nearly always enacted by Republican-controlled legislatures at the expense of minorities, the poor and other groups who tend to vote Democratic."

"Alabama has a long and ugly history of racial discrimination in voting," states the Times. "From 1965 on, at least 100 voting changes were blocked or altered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required Alabama and other states and jurisdictions with histories of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting practices. But in a 2013 case brought by Shelby County, Ala., the Supreme Court said that the section could not be applied to those states and jurisdictions because the data about discrimination was outdated. On the same day as that ruling, Alabama announced it would enforce its voter-ID law, which had passed in 2011 but was never submitted for approval."

"Alabama officials say the driver’s license offices set to close process less than 5 percent of Alabama licenses," states the Times. "But many are concentrated in the central part of the state known as the 'Black Belt'—a poor, rural, heavily African-American region where car ownership is below average, public transportation is virtually nonexistent and voters are strongly Democratic. On Monday, Representative Terri Sewell asked the Justice Department to investigate the planned closings."

"Making voting easier doesn’t have to be hard," states the board. "Oregon, for example, passed a law in March that automatically registers any eligible voter who gets a driver’s license—a move expected to add 300,000 voters to the rolls. Compare that to the trend in Alabama, where fewer people turned out for the 2014 midterm elections than for any election in almost three decades." (Read more)

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