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."