A series of recent government maneuvers in Alabama may prevent some citizens from voting across large swathes of the state, particularly in poverty-stricken Black Belt counties. The first of the moves happened a year ago, when Alabama enacted a law requiring voters to present government-issued identification at the polls. The second happened two weeks ago, when the state shut down dozens of driver’s license-issuing offices, leaving 28 counties with no means of issuing the most common form of ID. The Republican governor, Robert Bentley, says the office closures are a cost-cutting measure. Opponents say they are an effort toward disenfranchisement that harkens back to Alabama’s painful past. A half-century ago, Bloody Sunday in Selma led to the Voting Rights Act, removing obstacles for black voters. While politicians and activists squabble in the state capital, many residents in isolated, rural areas have not yet heard of the changes or grasped their impact.
… Wilcox County’s circuit clerk, Ralph Ervin, said Moton was lucky – he can get his license renewed at the probate court in Camden. He could also acquire a voter identification card at the county registrar’s office. The problem is Moton, and many others like him, don’t know how to navigate the various bureaucracies. Across the state a half million voters – one in five – don’t have a photo ID.
And even when they do, Ervin said, people who live beyond walking distance will struggle to get there. Working cars are so rare in Wilcox County, he said, that a native ride-sharing barter economy has grown up. When Ervin needs to gather a jury of 12 county residents for a trial, he said, he regularly sends out more than 200 subpoenas, because so many candidates will be stricken from jury duty because they have no transportation.
“I know it’s hard for people outside to understand,” he said. “This is what poverty means.” The idea of people here finding ways to and from farther towns, he said, is nearly impossible: “The state is cutting from those who have the least.”