Alabama’s secretary of state and the head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency are pushing back against a congresswoman who wants a federal investigation of an $11 million budget cut that will close 31 Department of Motor Vehicle offices in the state.
Many of the closures will occur in Rep. Terri Sewell’s district, and she has asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to get involved.
The only Democrat in the Alabama congressional delegation, Sewell sees the DMV closures as a direct attempt by the GOP to keep African-Americans from voting in November 2016. Sewell worries poor, rural blacks won’t be able to get the photo ID that’s required to vote in Alabama without the convenience of a local DMV office.
“These closures will potentially disenfranchise Alabama’s poor, elderly, disabled, and black communities,” Rep. Sewell wrote in a letter to Lynch. “To restrict the ability of any citizen to vote is an assault on the rights of all Americans to equally participate in the electoral process.”
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Spencer Collier, the Alabama secretary of law enforcement, accuse Sewell and other Democrats of sounding the voters’ rights alarm like Hillary Clinton, of screaming “fire” even though there is no smoke.
To begin with, state officials said the budget cuts came about as a result of simple arithmetic. They had no alternative but to close the offices. The $11 million cut to the Law Enforcement Agency budget was only a portion of $200 million worth of spending reductions agreed to by the Legislature in a September special session.
Alabama officials also said whether Sewell and Clinton want to admit it or not, the offices slated to close don’t deal with very many driver’s license requests.
Spencer Collier said the DMV offices that will close are all part-time facilities that handled less than five percent of all of the requests for driver’s license transactions in Alabama in 2014.
Collier told CNN even the busiest of the offices only issued fewer than 2,000 licenses last year.
Alabama Secretary of State Merrill also pointed out a driver’s license is not the only alternative for residents who need a photo ID that will allow them to vote.
However, he promised to make it as easy as possible for people in the counties where the DMV offices are shutting down to get a driver’s license that serves as photo ID so they can vote in November 2016.
“All 67 counties in Alabama have a Board of Registrars that issue photo voter ID cards. If for some reason those citizens are not able to make it to the Board of Registrars, we’ll bring our mobile ID van and crew to that county,” Merrill promised.
“By October 31 our office will have brought the mobile ID van to every county in Alabama at least once. One of the most fundamental rights we as Americans are afforded is our right to vote. As Alabama’s Secretary of State and Chief Elections Official, I will do everything within my power to ensure every Alabamian is able to exercise their right to vote.”
Rep. Sewell said Merrill’s promises are worth next to nothing for three reasons.
First, there is the magnitude of the problem, as Sewell described it. She said as many as 250,000 people of voting age don’t have the necessary photo IDs, a number Collier and Merrill said was exaggerated.
Second, no matter how many Alabamans need a driver’s license or some other form of state-sanctioned identification, Sewell said most of the people she is worried about are so poor they don’t have a car to take them to the mobile ID sites. And there is nothing close to the concept of mass transit in the backwoods of Alabama.
Third, Sewell said it is safe to assume if the unregistered and unidentified of her district can’t afford a car, they certainly don’t have home computers, even if access to the Internet was available in the rural areas, to get their photo IDs online.
“Now more than ever, DOJ’s critical role in enforcing civil and voting rights is vital to ensuring discriminatory practices do not undermine any American citizen’s fundamental rights,” wrote Sewell. “I strongly believe the decision made by ALEA (Alabama Law Enforcement Agency) warrants a full and thorough investigation.”