Alabama’s DMV Shutdown Has Everything to Do With Race

Don’t believe a word of it: It’s all about race.

Despite state officials’ quick denial that the closing of 31 Alabama DMVs has nothing to do with race, it is a fact that the closures – mostly in poor, majority black counties – disproportionately hurts Black voters. Period.

Fifty years ago in Selma, the civil rights movement won a hard fought battle to gain the right to register to vote. It took bloodshed in the streets, lives lost, a march to Montgomery, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act to make sure that African-American citizens had the right to vote. It was all about race.

Unfortunately, some things in Alabama never change. When it comes to making sure people can vote, the state of Alabama has on its hands an avoidable problem. Our legislature passed an unnecessary law that put excessive burdens on citizens by requiring them to get a photo ID in order to exercise their fundamental constitutional right to vote — despite the well-known fact that in-person voter fraud is rare.

Now Alabama closes 31 0f 67 Department of Motor Vehicle locations where most people get the most commonly used voter ID, the driver’s license. The majority of these counties in the state that are home to poor and Black people are on that list. The photo ID law already disenfranchises voters who are not able to obtain IDs. It has been reported that there are currently 250,000 registered voters who don’t have IDs so are now unable to vote in Alabama unless they either travel outside their county to get a driver’s license or take a burdensome trip to a separate location (which is even harder without a  driver’s license!) just for a voter ID. And that disproportionately hurts Black voters.

Before the United States Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Alabama would have had to submit this change for review by the U.S. Department of Justice to determine whether the closure was against the law. The fact that it was implemented without approval is just most recent example of why Congress needs to restore the Voting Rights Act.

Indeed, the very day that Alabama was no longer required to submit voting changes to the Department of Justice, Alabama announced its implementation of the photo ID requirement that had been delayed because of the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.  This is all about race and about what communities are most affected by the state of Alabama’s bad choices.

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Anonymous

Why exactly are you on the ACLU website if you expect nothing but "vomit"? I don't hop on the conservative sites and talk a bunch of sh*t. You sound like a jacka**, which is ironic because you seem to be struggling to make Watson look like one. Peace

Anonymous

This claim is false. An individual seeking a voter ID can get a voter ID at the court house in every county in Alabama and it is free.

Avery Vise

This is simply not true. I don’t dispute that there have been serious efforts at voter suppression in Alabama, including the voter ID law. However, I do dispute vigorously the argument that the driver’s license closures office is an example of this suppression.

Everyone has seized on a comment made by John Archibald in an AL.com column that the closures affect all of the counties where 75% or more are registered voters are African-American. This is factually correct metric, though -- as I will point out shortly -- not an especially meaningful one. I didn't think much about its efficacy until I started reading far more misleading and downright false statements, such as a comment in a Boston Globe opinion piece that Alabama "is now closing 31 driver’s license offices that are predominately located in African-American communities."

I sorted through hard data that I personally downloaded from the state law enforcement agency and secretary of state websites and from the U.S. Census Bureau, and here is what I have found:

• 19 of the 27 counties where all driver’s licenses offices have closed are majority white
• The 27 counties taken as a group voted 57% for Mitt Romney in 2012
• The closures are pretty clearly correlated mostly with population
o 18 of the 19 smallest Alabama counties lost all driver’s license services
o The largest of Alabama's 67 counties losing all services is Tallapoosa (No. 31). In fact, Tallapoosa is losing both of its offices; it is the only county with more than one office where all offices are closing. (It is also more than 72% white in voter registration)
• If you look at total African-American voter registration numbers as opposed to percentages, it’s pretty clear there was no attempt to isolate blacks:
o The only closure in the top 8 counties ranked by African-American registered voters is a secondary office in Montgomery. Those 8 counties represent 61% of all African-American voters in the state.
o Among the top 20 counties ranked by African-American registered voters, only two -- Macon (No. 9) and Chambers (No. 17) -- are losing their only offices.
o 11 of the full closures are in the bottom 17 of Alabama's 67 counties as ranked by African-American registered voters
o 14 of the full closures -- more than half -- are in the bottom 24 of Alabama's 67 counties as ranked by African-American registered voters.
o African-American registered voters in the 27 counties losing all driver’s license services represent less than 15% of all African-American registered voters in the state
o The five counties where African-American registered voters are 75% or more of the total represent just over 5% of the state's African-American registered voters.

But let’s look at the 75% figure anyway. I would argue that if you were trying to suppress the black vote your lowest priority would be small counties where the voter registration is overwhelmingly black. Consider:
• Even if you severely reduce voter turnout in a county where the black vote is 75% or greater, it’s pretty obvious that the black vote would still decide the outcome of any countywide election.
• Depressing the black vote in a small county gets you very little in a statewide election. The state’s smallest county by population is Greene (No. 67 out of 67), one of the five counties that is more than 75% black. Bullock is No. 65 in population, and Lowndes is No. 64. The largest of the five is Macon, which ranks No. 47
• A competent voter suppression effort would be aimed at counties where (1) the voter registration was fairly close to 50/50 – either by race or party – and/or (2) the African-American vote is large. But again, out of the top eight counties in African-American registration, the only county affected is Montgomery with the closing of one of two offices.

All this said, there most certainly is a legitimate policy controversy here: The state’s obligation to serve rural communities. Four counties – Jefferson, Madison, Shelby and Walker – have two offices but didn’t see either close. Of course, since Jefferson is No. 1 in total black registration and Madison is No. 4, closure of one of those offices also would have prompted an outcry and, I would argue, more legitimately so.

My point is not to defend Alabama’s race record. I can’t honestly do that. I just object to using false – or at the very least highly misleading – information to do so. I believe the closures represent bad policy for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the failure of lawmakers to perform their duties in a way that would have prevented the need for the closures in the first place. But they were not an attempt to suppress the black vote. Only a group of people very bad at voter suppression would have done it that way, and I think we can all agree that this is not a group of people bad at voter suppression.

Anonymous

Hello ? This is not persecution. Shutting down of registries is a nationwide situation. Getting a license, IF it is in good standing...paid your fines, no dui's, no hit and runs... you can get a license ON-line. Every person in this country under the age of 60 has a smart phon to access on-line licensure -- it's really not excessive to ask someone to show a photo ID when , as you say, this has been a hard earned right for many disenfranchised Groups

Anonymous

Come to DC and try to get a license online. Can't happen, no way, no how. And this past year they instituted so many new regulations about getting a license that everyone's bitching. If YOU can get a license in your state online, cool; just don't stretch it to make a point by claiming, falsely, that we all can.

Anonymous

Because that is happening in DC does not mean there is a concerted effort to stifle the vote. To claim that supporting voter ID as racist ...is in fact racist!

Anonymous

what a pile of shit! if there is 250000 people who have rights to vote why dont they have their ID;s already? besides what do they do when they go to the hospital, bank or anywhere any of the rest of us have to show a Photo ID....

Anonymous

Because black people are the ONLY people affected by closing these places. Friggin racist post. There are more than BLACK people in Alabama, get over yourselves!!!!

Anonymous

The financial burden of obtaining a photo I.D. is too much for many who would have to put on their $200 sneakers to drive their $1,000 car with $3,000 tires, $2,000 sound system, and stupid $1,000 paint job.

Maybe DMV should mobilize in shuttle buses and have satellite stations that go to specific neighborhoods on a weekly schedule. Park in neighborhood shopping centers and even go to homes for disabled people. Internet, wi-fi, and everything could be done electronically from a mobile location.

Anonymous

Somebody needs to fix this. I don't know if Congress could be forced to do it. Somebody needs to!!

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