An Alabama congresswoman has formally asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the state’s shuttering of driver’s license offices in several heavily black counties, warning that the closures throw up another obstacle to voting. The call for a federal probe comes as opposition to the state’s decision, announced last Wednesday, continues to mount. “These closures will potentially disenfranchise Alabama’s poor, elderly, disabled, and black communities,” wrote Rep. Terri Sewell in a letter sent Monday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “To restrict the ability of any citizen to vote is an assault on the rights of all Americans to equally participate in the electoral process.” Sewell, a Democrat whose district includes Selma, the historical birthplace of the push for African-American voting rights, called for “a full and thorough investigation by DoJ.”
Citing budget constraints, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said last Wednesday that driver’s license examiners would no longer work at 31 offices around the state. As John Archibald, an Alabama newspaper columnist, noted that day, eight of the 10 counties with the highest share of non-white registered voters will see their offices closed. That includes all five of the counties that voted most strongly Democratic in the 2012 presidential election.
Alabama passed a voter ID law in 2011, to go into effect in 2014. The state didn’t seek approval for the law from the Justice Department, known as pre-clearance, as was required at the time under the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In 2012, DoJ blocked Texas’s voter ID law from taking effect, citing its impact on minority voters. But in 2013, the Supreme Court neutered the VRA’s preclearance provision. Hours later, Alabama announced that its law would go into effect in 2014 as scheduled.
A report by the liberal Center for American Progress found that the ID law affected 250,000-500,000 Alabamans, disproportionately African-American, in last year’s midterm and gubernatorial elections.