Alabama is one of many states with unnecessary voter ID laws, voter-suppression policies passed on the pretext of preventing virtually nonexistent forms of voter fraud. Last month, the state government made things even worse. Its new budget will make it harder to get a driver’s license in Alabama, particularly in majority-black, poor and rural areas. After an initial round of uproar, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) tried to scale back and downplay the toxic interaction between these two policies. But it is too little, too late: Unless state leaders fully reverse both, they will be guilty of eroding the fundamental principle of one person, one vote, and they will deserve condemnation. State examiners used to issue driver’s licenses in satellite offices around the state. Under the new budget, 31 of these satellite offices were slated to close. After a national outcry, Mr. Bentley partially reversed that plan, promising that state workers will travel into remote counties once a month. That’s better than never, but it is still a massive reduction in access.
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.
Alabama: Federal prosecutor on DMV closures: Alabama Legislature threw ALEA ‘under the bus’ in budget | AL.com
George Beck, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, says Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley could do more to address concerns about the closing of 31 drivers’ license offices, mainly in rural communities around the state, than just re-opening them one day a week. But Beck didn’t put all the blame on Bentley for the DMV closings in the first place. He said the Alabama Legislature threw the department that runs the DMV offices “under the bus” in this year’s budget. Beck said he plans to meet with Bentley in the coming days to discuss the DMV closures. He said in making his plea to the governor he wants to “make certain that any people, of any race, in any county, are not denied the right to register to vote.”
Alabama: Amid voting rights criticism, Alabama partially backs off controversial plan to close driver license offices | The Washington Post
The governor of Alabama has partially reversed a decision to close more than 30 government offices that issue driver licenses and photo IDs, following weeks of criticism by civil rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers who say the action would make it harder for some black residents to get the identification needed to vote. On Friday, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said that instead of fully closing the 31 offices, most in rural communities around the state, the facilities would open once a month to serve residents. The closures are part of service cuts in several agencies to balance the state’s budget, state officials say. Bentley took issue with the implication that his actions were racially motivated. “To suggest the closure of the driver’s license offices is a racial issue is simply not true, and to suggest otherwise should be considered an effort to promote a political agenda,” Bentley said in a statement. The initial reaction to the office closures when first announced indicates that the racially charged debate around voting rights will continue as the parties gear up for the 2016 presidential election.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is seeking legislative support for a plan that would reopen 31 closed rural driver’s license offices. The plan would involve a “bridge loan” from the governor’s emergency fund to pay for staffing closed license offices, officials say. In return, Bentley wants rural and black lawmakers to support permanent funding when the Legislature convenes next year. Government sources say Bentley has not committed finally to the plan yet, but has floated the idea to seek lawmakers’ response. Bentley’s office said last week he would seek solutions to keep the offices open and, on Friday, the rural legislative caucus headed by state Rep. David Standridge (R-Hayden) asked caucus members for feedback on a bridge loan idea from Bentley. The governor’s office had no immediate comment Tuesday morning.
For the fourth time, Jim Bennett took the oath of office today as Alabama’s secretary of state. Bennett, 73, was sworn in just after 5 p.m. by Gov. Robert Bentley to replace Beth Chapman, who resigned to take a job with the Alabama Farmers Federation. Bennett won’t be a candidate for the office next year. Bentley said at the time he appointed Bennett that he did not want to appoint anybody who planned to run for the office. Bennett was appointed secretary of state in 1993 and was elected to the position in 1994 and 1998. His election in 1998 marked the first time for a Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction. Bentley praised Chapman’s work and said he expected a smooth transition.
With 17 months left in her term, Secretary of State Beth Chapman plans to resign Aug. 1 and enter private business. Chapman told The Associated Press she has an offer in government and public relations consulting that she can’t pass up, and she will end her decade in public office to take the position. She has not released details of the new job, but she said it doesn’t involve lobbying. A few months ago, Chapman was being talked about as a possible candidate for governor, but she said she is pleased with Republican Gov. Robert Bentley and would not run against him. “He’s not only my governor, he’s my friend,” she said. He also recently appointed her to the board of trustees of her alma mater, the University of Montevallo.
Top Alabama officials say voters apparently will have to present photo identification at the polls in the next election. Gov. Robert Bentley, Secretary of State Beth Chapman and Attorney General Luther Strange said the Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday throwing out part of the federal Voting Rights Act means the state does not have to submit for preclearance a new law requiring voters to show photo identification. Strange said the voter identification law will be implemented immediately. Democratic state Rep. Alvin Holmes of Montgomery said fears the photo ID law will be used to intimidate blacks and keep some elderly people from being able to vote. He said it’s the kind of thing that should be reviewed by the Justice Department. “This is a perfect example of why we need pre-clearance,” Holmes said. “The civil rights community had a bad day yesterday.” The governor, however, said he believes pre-clearance is no longer needed.
Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination. After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office has opened yet another front in the legal battle to scale back the 1965 Voting Rights Act. With a lawsuit filed this week in Washington, D.C., add Alabama to the growing list of governments complaining to judges that they’re chafing under the burdens of the 47-year-old law that doesn’t let them run their elections without strict supervision. All or part of 16 states — those with a blatant history of discrimination against minority voters — have to get permission from the federal government before they change any election-related procedures. Alabama is one of those states. “The fact that so many covered states are now willing to come out against the Voting Rights Act is a sea change since the act’s amendments passed 98-0 in the Senate in 2006,” said Rick Hasen, professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law and election law expert. Congress approved a 25-year extension of the law in 2006 and, as with previous renewals, sparked a new round of legal action. Shelby County has a case pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, as does a jurisdiction in North Carolina. And other states from around the South have challenges at various stages in the legal process.