If you live in Alabama and need to register to vote before the 2016 presidential election, it just got a little harder, especially if you live in any of the counties where Black Americans make up more than 75 percent of the registered voting population.
Due to “budget constraints” – 31 DMV offices are losing their driver’s licenses examiners.
As John Archibald wrote in a column at AL.com, of the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters, eight will lose their driver’s license bureaus.
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Of the 10 that voted in the highest percentages for Barack Obama, eight of them had their offices closed.
And all five of the counties that voted most solidly democratic lost their driver license offices.
Which means that people within those majority-African American counties will need to travel to another county in order to get a driver’s license, and that’s a big problem for people who still need to register to vote.
Because the same Alabama Legislature that set up this voter suppression tactic also passed a bill in 2011 that requires all voters to have a photo ID.
This is almost certainly not a coincidence, it looks more like a concerted effort to suppress Black votes.
Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature is making it harder and harder for minorities and low-income people to get the type of photo ID that they will need in order to vote in the next elections.
But even if this isn’t a targeted effort to suppress minority and low-income votes in the state, the end effect is that it fundamentally undermines our democracy by making it more difficult to register to vote in the counties that just lost their driver’s license bureaus.
This bald-faced attempt to block minorities from voting should face a Justice Department investigation.
The simple fact is, from 1965 until 2013, this move would have triggered a federal review under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 4 required states with a history of discrimination, like Alabama, to have any consequential changes in voting laws reviewed by the federal government.
But that part of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court two years ago with the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, in which Chief Justice John Roberts argued that Section 4 was unnecessary because “things have changed dramatically” in the South since 1965.
With that pesky Voting Rights Act out of the way, for example, North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican controlled North Carolina legislature passed sweeping changes to their voter registration laws.
Those changes included a reduction in days for early voting, restrictions on voters casting ballots outside of their registered district, and, of course, a requirement that voters have a government-issued photo ID.
North Carolina wouldn’t have been able to pass those reforms without federal preclearance if Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act were in place.
And North Carolina and Alabama aren’t the only Republican-controlled states that have passed voter suppression laws like this.
Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia were all covered under Section 4, and have all passed Voter ID laws and other restrictions since the Shelby County ruling in 2013.
And even beyond the Deep South, Republican controlled legislatures around the country are using the phony non-problem of “voter fraud,” which is virtually non-existent, as an excuse to make it harder for people, particularly people of color, the elderly, students and the poor, from registering to vote or voting.
Wisconsin and Ohio, under the governorships of Scott Walker and John Kasich, have both put into place voter suppression laws that require a photo ID to vote, reduce the period for early voting, and make it harder to register other people to vote.
What do all of these states have in common?
Every single one of them has Republican controlled legislatures and executives.
And that shouldn’t come as any surprise, because even if this isn’t about specifically suppressing minority and low-income voters along with students and the elderly, this is still about making it difficult to register to vote and to cast a ballot.
Which is how Republicans win elections, and it’s been part of their strategy for at least 35 years.
But don’t take it from me, take it from Heritage Foundation and ALEC co-founder Paul Weyrich.
That’s exactly what’s going on in Alabama, and in Republican controlled states across the country.
Because when people don’t, or can’t, vote, the oligarchs win.
It’s not just time to restore the Voting Rights Act so that states with a history of discrimination, like Alabama and North Carolina, are required to get federal pre-clearance before they make changes to voting laws.
We also must make it easier to register to vote if we truly want our democracy to flourish and to ensure that every person has the ability and opportunity to cast their vote.
States across the country should implement automatic voter registration as Oregon just did, so that people are automatically registered to vote when they register for selective service or receive a driver’s license.
And we need to expand early and absentee voting, and push for Oregon-style voting by mail across the country.
Because our republic is fundamentally stronger when we make it easier to vote, and it’s time to make our democracy thrive.