Five years after the Supreme Court invalidated the Voting Rights Act’s requirement that certain states get federal approval to change their election laws, there are few places where the results are clearer than in Alabama, where the lawsuit began. Alabama has enacted a slew of restrictive laws and policies, many of whichdisproportionately affect African-Americans, Latinos and other marginalized groups. In this, it stands out only in degree, not in kind: All over the country, state legislators are making it harder to vote. State officials say the voting measures are intended to prevent election fraud. Here is the landscape of voting rights five years after the lawsuit, Shelby County v. Holder, through the lens of the state that started it. Within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Alabama announced that in 2014, it would start requiring photo identification to vote under a law passed in 2011 but stymied by the Voting Rights Act. The number of states with similar laws has since ballooned.
Unlike some other states, Alabama accepts student, tribal and some employee identification, which minority voters are disproportionately likely to rely on. It also offers free photo identification to people who don’t have any. A district court judge noted this in upholding the measure in January, concluding, “It is so easy to get a photo ID in Alabama, no one is prevented from voting.”
Experts found, however, that among registered Alabama voters, blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to lack photo identification. An appeal of the district court ruling is in progress, but the law remains in effect.