Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill didn’t mince words when addressing opponents of his state’s voter ID law, which requires voters show a government-approved photo ID at the polls. “People are entitled to their own opinions. But they’re not entitled to their own facts,” Merrill told Business Insider. “Everybody in Alabama that wants a voter ID has one.” Voting rights activists, who have long dismissed voter ID laws as discriminatory tactics that disenfranchise minority voters, disagree. They say the time it takes people to travel to the office where they need to pick up their IDs and the added cost for the underlying documents required to get the ID in the first place are just too burdensome for many voters. This will discourage many people from voting, civil rights defenders say, in upcoming elections across the country, including the governor’s race in Virginia on Tuesday and the special election for the US Senate seat in Alabama on December 12. Voting rights activists say the landmark 2013 Shelby v. HolderSupreme Court decision — which struck down parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) and helped pave the way for Virginia’s voter ID law — is perhaps the most blameworthy culprit.
“We anticipate that there will be voters who are unable to vote because of the voter ID law and voters who stay home because of the voter ID law. And they will primarily be African-Americans and Latinos,” Deuel Ross, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), told Business Insider.
In 2015, Ross and the LDF filed a lawsuit against Alabama officials, including Merrill. The civil rights group says the state’s voter ID law disenfranchises minority voters.
Merrill argues that the law hasn’t, in fact, made it harder for certain groups of people to register and vote. Record turnouts in last year’s presidential election help his case.