Recently had a Facebook conversation with respect to the origination of the right to vote – federal or state. Fascinating concept and a little disturbing. I’ve always thought that the right to vote was precious and perhaps cardinal among the rights of citizens protected by governments. Where ever that right emanates from, I would like to see it made clear that such a right is federally protected.
Anywho – during that conversation, the goings on in Alabama came up. For those who don’t know, Alabama has passed voter ID laws and was recently allowed to implement them:
MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision clears the way for Alabama’s new photo voter ID law to be used in the 2014 elections without the need for federal preclearance, state officials said.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and Secretary of State Beth Chapman said they believed the voting requirement, which is scheduled to take effect with the June 2014 primaries, can simply move forward.
“Photo voter ID will the first process that we have gone through under this new ruling,” Chapman said today.
Alabama lawmakers in 2011 approved a law to require Alabamians – beginning with the party primaries in June of 2014 — to show photo identification in order to vote.
Then, in a controversial move, Alabama has closed multiple DMV satellite offices – mostly in black and poor communities:
… Alabama just took a giant step backward.
Take a look at the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters. That’s Macon, Greene, Sumter, Lowndes, Bullock, Perry, Wilcox, Dallas, Hale, and Montgomery, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. Alabama, thanks to its budgetary insanity and inanity, just opted to close driver license bureaus in eight of them. All but Dallas and Montgomery will be closed.
Closed. In a state in which driver licenses or special photo IDs are a requirement for voting.
Ouch. First ‘Bama requires an ID to vote, then they close the offices where you can get one. Direct evidence of a malicious attempt to restrict the vote.
At least in my eyes.
But then I learned this:
Alabama has 44 driver’s license offices throughout the state. It apparently also had 31 satellite offices that were open only part-time and that accounted for less than 5 percent of the driver’s licenses issued each year. Because of the budget passed by the state legislature, Alabama’s state government had to “allocate scarce limited resources in Fiscal Year 2016,” according to a letter sent by Governor Robert Bentley to Representative Terri Sewell, D-Ala. So the state government decided to close these satellite offices.
… in addition to being able to use a driver’s license to meet the voter ID requirement, you can get a free voter ID in every single county in the state. In addition to DMV offices, the secretary of state offers free voter IDs in all 67 counties through the local election registrar.
Furthermore, as Governor Bentley points out, those satellite offices being closed are typically “located in the county buildings where the registrars and probate judges’ offices are located.” So individuals who would have used one of the part-time satellite DMV offices to get an ID will be able to simply walk to another office—in the same building—to get the ID they need for voting.
Alabama even provides a free birth certificate or marriage license if you need it to get an ID. And if you can’t access a polling place because you are disabled or elderly, you don’t have to have an ID to vote by absentee ballot. Additionally, Alabama will continue to provide “mobile units to register and develop photo identification cards to those who need it throughout the state, and who may find themselves limited by lack of transportation,” according to Governor Bentley.
Finally, none of the critics mention that, in addition to driver’s licenses and the specially issued voter ID cards, you can vote in Alabama also using an ID issued by any state or the federal government—a passport; a local, state, or federal government ID; a student ID issued by any private or public Alabama college; and a military or tribal ID.
What does all of this mean? Not sure, really. I’m just not sure.
Literally it means that if you wanna vote at a polling place and don’t have a photo ID, you’ll need to get one. AND it means that of the choices you have, there is one less in those counties that experienced a DMV closure. However, it doesn’t restrict a citizen from obtaining a valid ID. Further, it doesn’t make it any harder, the location is in the same place and furthermore, Voter IDs are free.
In the end, two things are emerging as truth in my mind – Voter ID laws are not “racist” laws and people who claim such are simply blowing their ‘protest’ dog whistle. Second, the juice may not be worth the squeeze. At some point, an analysis has to be made – how much time, energy, money and political capital is it worth to expend on this issue? I’m closer and closer to arriving there.
I may just cry ‘Uncle’.