In Alabama, without an ID, you can’t vote. Yet Governor Bentley’s administration announced plans this month to close 31 driver’s license offices across the state, including in every single county where African Americans make up more than 75 percent of registered voters. The closings would make getting driver’s licenses and personal identification cards much harder for many African Americans. That would make voting much harder, too. As many Alabamians have said in recent days, that’s just dead wrong. Governor Bentley is insisting that the closings had nothing to do with race, but the facts tell a different story. Fifty years after Rosa Parks sat, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched, and John Lewis bled, it’s hard to believe Americans are still forced to fight for their right to vote—especially in places where the civil rights movement fought so hard all those years ago. The parallels are inescapable: Alabama is living through a blast from the Jim Crow past.
Governor Bentley has offered the same excuses we’ve always heard to justify laws that disproportionately affect people of color—or, for that matter, low-income people, women, young people, and seniors. It reminds me of that old saying: “You find a turtle on a fence post, it didn’t get there on its own.” Institutionalized racism doesn’t just happen. People make it happen.
But for every Republican governor working to dismantle voting rights across our country, there are Americans determined to keep marching forward. I’m proud of everyone in Alabama who leapt to confront this injustice. The outcry has been so strong, it’s forced politicians in Montgomery to reconsider. Governor Bentley and the legislature should listen to their constituents. Those offices should stay open – and not just one day a month.