Alabama has never fully complied with the federal “motor voter” act designed to allow people to register to vote at driver’s license offices, Secretary of State John Merrill acknowledged this week. Still, Merrill said, he hoped the state could avoid a federal lawsuit by working to implement the law now. “It’s like being pregnant,” Merrill said in a Monday telephone interview. “Either you’re fully in compliance with the law or you’re not in compliance. And we’ve never been compliant.”
The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice sent state officials a letter last month warning of a lawsuit if the state didn’t comply with Section 5 of the National Voter Registration Act, popularly known as the “motor voter” act.
The law requires states to make voter registration available to people when they renew their driver’s licenses, apply for Medicaid or conduct other common transactions with state government.
That change led state officials to begin supplying voter registration cards to people at driver’s license offices when the law took effect in the mid-1990s. That in turn led to the registration of tens of thousands of new voters, according to Star accounts from the time.