The state of Alabama has been accused of bringing back Jim Crow for closing 31 driver’s licenses offices in the state — including all the offices in counties where African Americans make up more than 75 percent of the registered voters — which critics say will further disenfranchise minority voters in a state that requires government-issued photo IDs at the ballot box. The backlash Alabama is now facing reflects the state’s long history of blocking African Americans access to the polls, from 1965’s Selma protests that ushered in the Voting Rights Act in the first place to the 2013 Supreme Court decision in the Shelby County case that gutted a key provision of it. The latest episode involves Alabama’s widely criticized voter ID law colliding with a broke government that can’t fund basic services. State officials are now on the defensive, denying that the closures — many of them in counties in what is known as Alabama’s “Black Belt” — will make it harder for African Americans to vote.
“The criticism is strictly a liberal attempt from people who are not from here, and don’t understand what’s going on with our people or our budget situation, they’re trying to use that to bring attention to our state in a negative light,” Secretary of State John Merrill (R), Alabama’s top elections official, said in an interview with TPM last week. “We’re doing everything we can and we are continuing to do everything we can to ensure that everyone in our state has the opportunity to do that, according to the law.”
The law — which Merrill, then a state representative, voted for in 2011 — tightened voter ID requirements already on Alabama’s books by requiring a government-issued photo ID and excluding the non-photo forms, like a Social Security card, that were previously accepted. Under the new law, which only went into effect in 2014, only a handful of forms of ID, including driver’s licenses, meet the requirements.