It’s only a 200 mile drive

A horrendous situation could be shaping up in Alabama. Note I say could be, because this is a situation that could happen if the legislature does X, with X being something it’s discussing but hasn’t yet enacted into law. The Huffington Post reports:

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said Monday that proposed budget cuts would force it to close all but four driver’s license offices, even though the state requires government-issued photo identification, like a driver’s license, to vote in elections.

The 45 other locations would be closed in phases, the agency said, if the Republican-controlled state legislature were to pass the kind of “drastic” budget cuts it’s now considering. Lawmakers have proposed $40 million for the agency next year, which would be a $15 million cut from what it received in state funding this year.

Four driver’s license offices in the whole state – and Alabama is not a tiny state. Four. That’s in a state with 4.8 million people. Just for people who need to get a first driver’s license that’s an appalling burden…but Alabama has a voter ID law that requires picture ID. Golly gosh gee what a coincidence that Alabama is one of the Deep South former slave states. What a coincidence that the Supreme Court cut the legs off the Voting Rights Act two years ago.

The four remaining driver’s license offices would be in the cities of Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile, meaning that the cuts would hit people in rural areas hardest. Someone who currently can visit the office in Dothan in southeastern Alabama, for instance, would instead have to travel 107 miles to Montgomery or 186 miles to Mobile to obtain a license for the first time. (Renewals can be done online.)

The legislature passed Alabama’s photo ID law in 2011, arguing that it would prevent voter fraud — even though proven cases of in-person voter impersonation fraud are extremely rare. Voters had previously been allowed to show non-photo forms of identification, like a Social Security card or a utility bill. Now, if voters don’t have one of the acceptable forms of photo ID, they can obtain a free Alabama voter photo ID card from a county registrar’s office. And still some long-time voters couldn’t vote in last year’s elections, because they didn’t have a way to travel to such an office to get the ID.

Just 41 percent of eligible Alabama voters participated in the 2014 general election, which was the lowest rate for the state in 28 years. Voting rights advocates warn that the threatened office closures would inevitably cause difficulties for otherwise eligible voters.

And that’s the goal. And the Supreme Court made it possible.

Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said that it was important to consider the real-world impact of such budget cuts on low-income and minority voters in the state.

“This is one of a million reasons why we, as a country, need to rethink why it is that photo ID laws are being enacted and who it is that they are harming,” she said. “Strict photo ID requirements have placed enormous burdens on the right to vote for some of our most marginalized members of society, which is compounded when states don’t make those ID-issuing agencies accessible and available.”

2012 Brennan Center report showed that the Alabama driver’s license offices that operate on a part-time basis — those that would be on the proposed closures list — tend to be located in areas with high concentrations of minority voters, who disproportionately live in poverty. It also found that nearly one-third of eligible Alabama voters live more than 10 miles from an ID-issuing agency.

And guess what – people who live in poverty are less likely to be able to afford a car and the gas to get anywhere than people who have enough money.

One thing this reminds me of is the Sunday afternoon before Katrina, when Ray Nagin told everybody to get out of New Orleans. Get out, he said. Mandatory evacuation, he said. What he didn’t say was how the fuck people without cars were supposed to do that. And you know what? There was no way. They couldn’t. They were stuck there. Lots of them drowned. More died of dehydration over the next week.

It’s enough to make you sick.

H/t Cathy Newman.

12 Responses to “It’s only a 200 mile drive”