Civil rights leaders around the country are taken aback over a recent decision by the state of Alabama to close 31 driver’s license offices, many in majority Black and poor areas. The move by Alabama appears to be an attempt to stymie the ability of African-Americans to meet new requirements to have a photo ID in order to vote.
“This is exactly what voter discrimination looks like. The same tactics of yesteryear, of placing administrative barriers in the way of registering and casting ballots, are alive and well in 2015,” says Wade Henderson, president/CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “While Republicans in Congress refuse to protect voters of color by restoring the Voting Rights Act, Alabama is once again depriving Black voters of their right to cast ballots.”
Two years ago, the U. S. Supreme Court, in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, mooted federal preclearance of voting rights changes, laws that would have required the Alabama closures to be approved by the U. S. Department of Justice. Since the court’s ruling, states around the country “have erected new barriers to voting that have fallen hardest on voters of color,” says Henderson.
Congress currently has bipartisan Voting Rights Act restoration bills pending in the House and Senate, but Republican leadership have not prioritized the measures.
“They share the blame for turning back the clock on 50 years of progress toward ensuring the right to vote for all,” says Henderson.The announcement by Alabama has caught the attention of organizations around the country that monitor race discrimination. The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a foremost expert on racial barriers, hatred and discrimination, issued a statement implying that the closures are a clear scheme to block voting rights.
“While 40 percent of the white voting public cast their ballots for a black president nationwide, only 15 percent of white voters did so in Alabama. And as Justice Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent, there are still Alabama legislators who talk openly about suppressing the black vote and refer to black voters as “aborigines’”, the organization said in a statement. “The closure of these important driver’s license offices is exactly what the state thought of next. Alabama can only be this cavalier because we no longer have the strong protections of the VRA—and that’s why we urgently need to restore it.”