Officially, the news out of Alabama is this: Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature and governor’s office are committed to cutting the state’s budget and the size of state government. That means the state will slice into the money available to a number of public agencies. And the Department of Public Safety, which includes the state’s offices that issue driver’s licenses, will simply have to take an $11 million hit. To make that math work, the agency will shutter driver’s license offices in the state’s most sparsely populated counties.
But the net effect is this: Every county in which black voters comprise more than 75 percent of the voter rolls and the bulk of Alabama communities that overwhelmingly voted for President Obama in 2012 will see their driver’s license offices close.
Not surprisingly, civil rights and civil liberties groups across the state and the only black member of Alabama’s congressional delegation have said plainly that the state’s seemingly race-neutral move to save money is anything but.
Alabama, which eagerly joined in the recent push to require voters to provide state-issued identification to cast a ballot — a.k.a. Voter ID — will close 31 state driver’s license offices, leaving the residents of 28 out of 67 counties without a place to obtain the most common form of ID. The counties most deeply and directly affected are those with populations so overwhelmingly black that in Alabama, they have long been referred to as the “black belt.”
Although fewer than half of the counties will have no offices granting licenses, eight of the 10 counties with the largest non-white populations will be without one.