The governor of Alabama has partially reversed a decision to close more than 30 government offices that issue driver licenses and photo IDs, following weeks of criticism by civil rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers who say the action would make it harder for some black residents to get the identification needed to vote. On Friday, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said that instead of fully closing the 31 offices, most in rural communities around the state, the facilities would open once a month to serve residents. The closures are part of service cuts in several agencies to balance the state’s budget, state officials say. Bentley took issue with the implication that his actions were racially motivated. “To suggest the closure of the driver’s license offices is a racial issue is simply not true, and to suggest otherwise should be considered an effort to promote a political agenda,” Bentley said in a statement. The initial reaction to the office closures when first announced indicates that the racially charged debate around voting rights will continue as the parties gear up for the 2016 presidential election.
Friday’s announcement came a day before Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to visit the state to speak to black party activists. Clinton, in a statement shortly after the closures were announced, criticized state officials for closing the offices a year after enacting a law requiring voters to show specific types of photo identification at the polls. She called it “a blast from the Jim Crow past.”
Rep. Terri Sewell, the state’s only Democrat in Congress, has called on the Justice Department to investigate the situation. And last week the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a leading civil rights activist, came to Alabama to meet with the governor.