The Senate election in Alabama on Tuesday is not just about the choice between Doug Jones and Roy Moore. It’s also about a voter suppression campaign that may well sway the result of a close race. In 2011, Alabama lawmakers passed a photo ID law, ostensibly to combat voter fraud. But “voter impersonation” at polling places virtually never happens. The truth is that the lawmakers wanted to keep black and Latino voters from the ballot box. We know this because they’ve always been clear about their intentions. A state senator who had tried for over a decade to get the bill into law, told The Huntsville Times that a photo ID law would undermine Alabama’s “black power structure.” In The Montgomery Advertiser, he said that the absence of an ID law “benefits black elected leaders.”
The bill’s sponsors were even caught on tape devising a plan to depress the turnout of black voters — whom they called “aborigines” and “illiterates” who would ride “H.U.D.-financed buses” to the polls — in the 2010 midterm election by keeping a gambling referendum off the ballot. Gambling is popular among black voters in Alabama, so they thought if it had remained on the ballot, black voters would show up to vote in droves.
Photo ID laws may seem innocuous. For many of us, it might be easy to take a few hours off from work, drive to the nearest department of motor vehicles office, wait in line, take some tests, hand over $40 and leave with a driver’s license that we can use to vote. But this requires resources that many rural, low-income people around the country simply do not have.
I work with poor, black Alabamians. Many of them don’t have cars or driver’s licenses and make under $10,000 a year. They cannot afford to pay someone to drive them to the motor vehicles or registrar’s office, which is often miles away.