Gov. Robert Bentley’s plan to reopen rural driver’s license offices won’t take effect until November, state officials said Tuesday. The schedule for those reopened offices — which would offer driver’s license tests one day per month in the state’s most sparsely-populated counties — still hasn’t been set. “We are still working out a schedule and we do not have a cost yet,” wrote Anna Morris, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Law Enforcement agency, in an email Tuesday. The agency, also known as ALEA, landed in the middle of a nationwide voting rights controversy this month when it announced the closure of 31 driver’s license offices in rural counties, a response to the state’s pared-down 2016 budget.
The offices, which closed Oct. 1, were all part-time offices in county buildings, where driver’s license examiners offered driving tests part-time, often just one day per week, to new drivers. The changes didn’t affect people who already hold licenses, who can renew them at county offices. State officials say the shuttered offices, including those in Clay, St. Clair, Cleburne and Cherokee counties, made up only about 5 percent of the total business for license offices statewide.
But the plan ran smack into one of Alabama’s most hotly debated laws — a strict voter ID law that requires state-issued photo ID at the polls. The driver’s license is by far the most common form of photo ID.
Critics of the closures said the change would make it harder to vote in the affected counties, many of which are majority-black and were battlegrounds of the 1960s voting rights movement. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, the only African American and the only Democrat among Alabama’s Congressional delegation, requested a Justice Department investigation of the closures.