Why Voter ID Laws Are Racist: Alabama To Close Driver’s License Offices in Mostly Black Communities

The move takes place one year after the state’s strict voter identification law requiring photo ID went into effect.

The state of Alabama this week announced it will close 31 driver’s license offices, most of which are located in predominantly Black communities — just one year after a strict voter ID law took effect in the state.

The state, whose treatment of African-Americans led to passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, cites budget cuts for the reason it must close the DMV offices. However, at least two Alabama news columnists say the motivation for this action appears to go beyond simply budget cuts. “There’s something bigger happening here,” wrote Kyle Whitmire, state political columnist for the Alabama Media Group and AL.com.

“In Alabama’s Black Belt — disproportionately poor and disproportionately African-American — either 12 or 15 counties (depending on which counties you count in the Black Belt) will no longer have a place to obtain the most common form of identification used at the polls,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, John Archibald of the Birmingham News quantified it even further: “Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one,” he wrote. “But maybe it’s not racial at all, right? Maybe it’s just political. And let’s face it, it may not be either. But no matter the intent, the consequence is the same.”

And that consequence is the suppression of Black votes. All but two of the counties that voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama in 2012 (Dallas and the state capital of Montgomery) had their driver license offices closed.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is a Republican, and both houses of the state legislature are controlled by the GOP.

“The voices of our most vulnerable citizens have been silenced by a decision to close 31 license facilities in Alabama. #RestoreTheVOTE,” tweeted Congresswoman Terri Sewell from Selma on Thursday.

“Voter ID solves a problem that doesn’t exist,” added Whitmire. “Voter fraud is real, but voter fraud by impersonation isn’t the real problem.”

Whitmire cited a comprehensive study by Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, which found just 31 credible cases of fraud by impersonation in 14 years of voter fraud cases in the United States.

“There’s a simple reason why fraud by impersonation isn’t more common — it’s a lousy way to steal an election,” Whitmire wrote. “You would need one co-conspirator for every bogus ballot you’d want to cast, or perhaps you could have one co-conspirator return to the same voting precinct wearing a different wig each time, or you could have a team of confederates driving from place to place. … Ultimately, it’s a lot less work to win the election by legal means.”

Whitmire further pointed out that when voter fraud does take place, “It’s usually not the person on your side of the voting booth that commits the crime — rather it’s the officials who do the counting, or campaign workers canvassing absentee voters.”

The Birmingham News’ Archibald called on the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation into the DMV office closings, saying the action “has clear racial and political overtones.”

“It’s not just a civil rights violation. It is not just a public relations nightmare. It is not just an invitation for worldwide scorn and an alarm bell to the Justice Department. It is an affront to the very notion of justice in a nation where one man one vote is as precious as oxygen,” Archibald wrote. “It is a slap in the face to all who believe the stuff we teach the kids about how all are created equal.”

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22 comments


  • Richard Garyson

    While there could be some sinister ulterior motives to the closure of so many offices, voter ID laws are just common sense. It is virtually impossible to go through life in the U.S. without a government issued ID; it is not unreasonable to ask someone to present when voting. Proof of identity and citizenship should be required of all voters.

    • Actually it does not make common sense. Voter fraud is not a problem so why go through all of the work and expense to have people get a government issued ID? It costs time and money and it’s inconvenient. It suppresses voting because fragile populations will simply not vote with even the smallest barriers. And the designers know this – they count on it. If you want an involved citizenry you don’t place barriers of any kind in the way of voting. Now if you really want the unnecessary IDs then make it easy on people. First combine IDs and voter registration and make it free. Second provide IDs everywhere. For example when people register for school at all levels provide IDs at the same time. Provide IDs when people register for social security, welfare, unemployment. Give them out at prisons, or upon release from prisons. Register people when they apply for their drivers license. Allow people to apply for IDs at church and community centers. This is what an ID process would look like if it was not intended to surpress voting.

      • Every con artist starts with a plausible germ in his/her story -in this case it sounds perfectly logical to ask for ID when you’re going to vote, but that’s not the real issue– the real issue is voter suppression among the poor people who tend to vote for Democrats.

  • Now, that’s the Alabama I know…and don’t love. What really irks me is the obvious “racio-political” foundation of this whole Voter ID movement that has swept through red states–that aim to stay red. And especially since President Obama was elected. But this is the textbook political process for many legislators:
    1) Pander to your insipid base
    2) Ignore/distort/deliberately misstate the real issues
    3) Create a “problem” that does not exist (voter ID fraud)
    4) Throw all kinds of money, resources and rhetoric at that “problem”
    5) Enact legislation to solve that “problem” (pass the regressive “law” and disenfranchise)
    6) Emboldened by passage of the “law”, institute other government measures to ensure the intent/success of the “law”
    7) Crow about it
    8) Go back to Step 1) and start over…

  • The above certainly seems unjustifiable.

    On the other hand if the effort that is put into complaining that ID’s and drivers licenses are racist was put into an effort to assure that everyone who wanted one got one wouldn’t this be a non-issue.

    An added benefit is the recipients would then be able to enter many government buildings/facilities from which they would currently be barred for lack of a picture ID,
    This would include the Justice Department which requires picture ID for entrance.

    • But the effort is being made to prevent Poor people from voting. It takes a lot of Republican Party planning and forethought to pass the law, then close the offices. This has been the pattern across the country.

  • This is absolutely ridiculous. Alabama GOP you should be ASHAMED of yourselves. Blatant and completely discriminatory. The Alabama Democrats need to start shuttling African American voters to get their drivers licenses or state ID cards. Everyone has a right to vote, regardless of color. Good god.

    • I agree! I immediately thought of shuttles as well because the next problem will be getting pulled over for “Driving while Black” for the citizens who come to these offices. It would be interesting to see the selection criteria used to close these offices. I live in Michigan and all of the offices in urban areas are packed beyond belief all day long. This is so sad!

      • I’m sure the regular commenters who have excuses for everything will soon chime in with the Breitbart mausoleum.com spin on things, but this is a pattern, it’s nationwide and it’s racist.

        Here’s a note to the bamboozled who buy into the FOX/Murdoch/Limbaugh/Beck party line: They don’t like you either – but you’re convenient canon fodder. So stay compliant and they’ll keep tossing you made-in-China American flags as they strip out your home equity, savage your 401k, load you up with student loans and offshore your jobs.

  • Voter ID laws are such a farce. It’s very existence as a discussion is flawed and feeble political discourse because voter fraud takes on a more potent and planned out act than individuals voting using misleading identities. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, voting machine errors and destruction or invalidation of ballots are more prevalent forms of voter fraud used by the powerful (local and state governments in this country). The W. Bush administration’s DOJ already concluded in a report voter ID fraud is not the most common form of voter fraud. This is a deliberate battle technique against non Whites in a classist war.

  • The facts of what is happening in Alabama is that 31 PART-TIME license offices are being shut down because those 31 PART-TIME offices don’t see much traffic anyhow. The most any of those office did was still under 2,000 licenses a year.

    The only people that will be affecting is those who have never had a driver’s license in the state of Alabama. Renewals will be covered by the county’s license commissioner which all counties have. Voter IDs will be covered by the county’s board of registrars which all counties have.

    This is not about race. When you tally up the population of all the counties affected by this shutdown, the racial breakdown matches that of the state. If it is about anything, it is about rural counties versus urban counties. Low population counties versus high population counties.

    • Cue the apologists! Alabama Congresswoman Sewell has already opened an inquiry with the attorney general be close to closures disproportionately affect rural, African-American and poor neighborhoods. Do you think she’s a fool?

      Aside from your state being self-destructive (do you think Alabama needs a worse image regarding racism?), your state is the fifth largest per capita recipient of federal tax dollars – while having a GDP growth rate one third that of the nation. I recommend your state leaders start looking in the mirror for the source of your own problems.

      • Not sure if I would call Alabama self-destructive… Many of the issues currently facing the state exist because Alabama has a constitutional amendment that states the budget must be balanced. The state can not run a debt unless repayment of that debt is guarenteed. I don’t like how either party has been doing. When the Democrats were in charged, we had to deal with proration each year and the victims of proration were always education because everything else was already earmarked. It was the only place they could cut. Since the Republicans have been in charge, we no longer hear about proration, but the crisises haven’t gone away.

        I am not an apologist, I am a realist. One of the DMVs they are closing, the one in Rockford, AL (Coosa County, 66.3% white, 31.0% black) did a grand total of 180 license transactions in 2014.

        The list of counties with a black population of 75% are Greene County (81.5% black, population 9,045), Macon County (82.6%, 21,452), Sumter (75.0%, 13,763). That’s it. Some that are close are Bullock (70.2%, 10,914), Hale (59.0%, 15,760), Lowndes (73.5%, 11,299), Perry (68.7%, 10,591), Wilcox (72.5%, 11,670).

        The largest county to lose it’s DMV is Lauderdale County which is 86.4% White, 10.0% Black and has a population of 92,709. Next largest is Lawrence which is 77.6% White, 11.5% Black, and has a population of 34,339. Chambers (58.8% W, 38.7% B, Pop: 34,215) and Franklin (83.0% W, 3.9% B, Pop: 31,704) are the only other counties that have a population of 30,000 or more.

        • Alabama has an economic development department which tries to lure new corporate development into the state. If what you’re saying is true, and these part-time offices served so few people, then it was self-destructive to close them and get all the bad publicity.

          I would not want to be the CEO of a big corporation trying to explain to my Black employees why the move to Alabama isn’t a bad thing for them.

          Because any Black person with the common sense they were born with knows it IS a bad thing.

          I don’t believe the people of Alabama’s State government are foolish. I think this was a calculated move to lower Black voter turnout.

          • I don’t believe they are foolish either but you have a department that lost $11 million in the most recent budget. They were not told by the legislature where they had to cut, they just don’t have the budget to pay for everything they were doing.

            They had just raised license fees this year to cover a previous budget shortfall and raising fees another $13 each to cover this shortfall would not have been taken well by the entire state so they decide to look elsewhere.

            These DMVs most likely were being looking at to close already because they were money losers. Most of the functions these DMVs were providing can be covered by other offices operated by each county.

            The only people that lose a function is those that never had an Alabama Driver’s License before.

            Those people still have two options: 1) go to another county to get their driver’s license, or 2) schedule a time with the Mobile DMV office that is operated by the state of Alabama.

            The fact of the matter is that the State of Alabama is virtually bending over backwards to make sure that nobody is disenfranchised by this. They are willing to send somebody to your house if you need a photo ID.

            When the state made this move, they asked the Justice Department to investigate to make sure they were not doing something that they should not be doing. The closures haven’t happened yet and even though they don’t need justice department approval to do it, they have asked for it.

          • I don’t think the people running Alabama are any smarter than the people running New Jersey (don’t mistake that to be a compliment), but this was a really poor move.

            Avoiding the bad publicity was worth at least $11 million. And if your state is going to be out front in addressing the non problem of voter fraud, then you have an obligation to make sure citizens, especially those who are descendants of enslaved people, are not disenfranchised.

            You called yourself a realist. Your state, like many “conservative” states in the South takes in more federal dollars than they pay. Your economy is below average and growing at far less than the national rate. The realist point of view should try to avoid shooting oneself in the foot. Repetitively.

          • That is the rub. They are doing things to make sure nobody is disenfranchised, but because it does not forward the narrative some people want forwarded.

            When Alabama passed the voter id law, it contained a provision that anybody without a proper form of id could get a free voter id. That it still in place. Anybody can go to their county’s board of registrars office and get it. Every county has one and they should be staffed at full time hours unlike the part time days and hours of the dmv offices being closed. Also no fee unlike a drivers license.

            Also if you cannot get to the registrars office for whatever reason. The state operates a mobile office that can come to that person.

  • Voter Identification laws are not racist, in that “Prevented by poverty, disability. or illegal immigration status from obtaining acceptable form of photo identification” is not generally considered to be a race or ethnic group. You folks are just squealing, “Racism!Racism!Racism!” because that’s what you folks do.

    It’s like that brilliant artist/idiotic debater Affleck calling out what he felt was Bill Maher’s “gross, racist, disgusting,” ideas about Islam during a heated, televised debate. Islam ain’t a race, Muslim ain’t a race, so Maher’s ideas about Islam or Muslims cannot be racist ideas.

    • It’s been awhile since we heard from you, I was concerned.

      Poor people are disproportionately Black and Latino. They tend to vote for Democrats, which is why this push to solve a non problem is primarily being fought in Southern states. If this were about voter fraud, we’d be able to vote on the internet, the voting period would last a full week (not just one day)and voting would be a requirement to maintain citizenship.

      But civic responsibility is not the goal of voter ID laws, voter suppression is. It’s racist.

      I’m not a fan of Bill Maher.

  • Haven’t been anywhere or done anything recently, maybe my fingers don’t itch as much these days. And RE: “Poor people are disproportionately black and latino,” that’s a True Fact, but if Jeb Bush or Huckleberry Huckabee or Romney tried to express the same sentiment with slightly different wording, you all would very likely be joining Ta-Neisiie Coates calling it racism and explaining how that if it is true, it’s whitey’s fault.

    • Glad you’re ok.

      That’s because “stuff happens” Jeb, “door of the oven” Huckabee and “47% believe they are victims” Romney would state that fact in a mean-spirited way while pandering to people who have beliefs well out from the majority, thus making themselves unelectable.

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