Revising voting laws sets country back

Deanna Huffman and Deanna Huffman

Alabama, a state with a daunting voter ID law already in place, has effectively made it even more difficult for minority groups to obtain driver’s licenses.

With November right around the corner, Alabama has taken a giant step backwards in time and revisited the Jim Crow-era by endorsing the blatantly racist disenfranchisement of minority voters.

So what’s the deal?

Back in 2011, policymakers approved a voter ID law that requires constituents to show a government-issued ID in order to step foot in the booths to vote. This law stiffened previously enacted voter ID requirements and only includes government-issued ID’s while excluding other forms such as Social Security Cards and other non-photo ID’s. In the event that a resident does not have the approved ID, he or she is required to have two poll officials to vouch for his or her identity.

The major problem, aside from requiring the citizens of Alabama to jump through multiple hoops, comes from the fact that the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has recently closed 31 driver’s licenses offices, including all of the offices in counties where African Americans make up more than 75 percent of the population of registered voters.

The offices were closed due to a major budget crisis – an $11 million cut in the General Fund Appropriation. As these closures follow the recently-passed voter ID laws, they will undoubtedly restrict access to one of the few types of identifications that are accepted in order to vote, disproportionately affecting Alabama’s African American population.

In fact, eight of the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of registered minority voters had their driver’s license office doors closed for good. As I previously stated, every county in which blacks make up more than three-fourths of the registered voter population will be affected by these closings. Every single one.

Barefaced, unabashed racism aside, I think it’s also important to note that many of the counties that are experiencing these office closings have voted predominantly Democratic in the past. So is it racism, political hardball, a disappointing combination of the two, or neither? Whatever the objective may be, the outcome is the same but the potential impacts were not unknown at the time of the legislation’s passing in 2011.

Before Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) signed the voter ID law, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama reported that it would have a “disproportionate negative impact on minority voters,” citing that 62 percent of black Alabama residents depend on public transportation, compared to only 34 percent of white residents. In fact, a state-wide analysis conducted at the time of the jurisdiction exhibited that about 500,000 registered voters did not have a driver’s license.

Challenges to this law are being contested across the nation, with a similar case from Texas expected to wind up in the Supreme Court. In this instance, the appeals court ruled that the Texas legislature violated the Voting Rights Act because it had a negative, discriminatory effect on minority voters.

I truly do want to believe that Alabama has evolved from the days of slavery and Jim Crow and changed its ways. But quite frankly it’s a difficult stretch for me, and the overt suppression tactics used by the Republicans are laughable.

This is more than just a civil rights violation. It’s more than a nationwide invitation for scorn, and more than a red flag for the Justice Department. It is a direct attack on the belief that a citizen’s vote is his or her voice, and that that voice is precious and equal.

According to the Pew Research Center, the United States is ranked 31st among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as of 2012.

So in a time when encouraging [all] citizens to vote is absolutely crucial, why are we making it next to impossible to exercise a basic civil right? All the while turning back the pages of our history books in the very state where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis marched on Bloody Sunday to lay the foundation for the Voting Rights Act in 1965.