One of Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett’s last acts will be to try to implement one of the last provisions of the state’s controversial immigration law that has not already been resolved – a requirement that voters show proof of citizenship to register. Under that provision of the 2011 law, known as HB 56, people must show a driver’s license or some other valid form of identification in order to register to vote. But the state never implemented it while lawyers fought over the legality of the law’s broader measures, which sought to crack down on illegal immigration. The federal courts invalidated most of that law, and the state last year reached a permanent settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreeing to permanently black enforcement of seven provisions. Bennett announced last week, though, that the state will press ahead with the citizenship requirement now that the U.S. Senate has confirmed nominees to fill long-vacant seats on the Election Assistance Commission. That is the organization that must agree to change the federal voter registration form to comply with the state requirements.
Under the law, birth certificates, Star Alabama driver’s license or nondriver ID cards, passports, naturalization documents or other documents showing U.S. citizenship would be acceptable. “There are different approaches we can take depending on the response we receive from the EAC,” he said in the statement. “Alabama is a sovereign state and our Legislature has determined that in the future, people registering to vote must prove that they are, indeed, U.S. citizens.”
Critics predicted that the state’s effort will fail. “What the secretary of state is trying to do is part and parcel of a larger effort by the Republican Party to suppress minority voting. And it will not be successful,” said Richard Cohen, president of the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center. “I think it’s nothing more than a political stunt. And I think the whole thing’s tainted by its association with HB 56.”