After national outcry from civil groups and politicians, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley announced he is somewhat reversing his decision to shut down 31 DMV offices in rural, majority-black counties across his state. Under the new plan, the offices will remain open just one day a month, beginning this November.
Critics of the closures, including Selma, Alabama native Rep. Terri Sewell (D), say it’s not enough. In a statement, the congresswoman called the new plan “bare minimum access” for the thousands of voters in those counties who lack the proper ID, and who may have difficulty accessing the office during that one day because of work or transportation issues.
“Alabama cannot require photo identification for voting and then make decisions to close DMV offices in communities that are disproportionately African American, rural, and low income,” she said.
Alabama officials acknowledge that a drivers license or DMV-issued state ID are the most common forms of identification used to vote, but argue residents who need an ID have plenty of ways to obtain one.
Ed Packard, Alabama’s Director of Elections, told ThinkProgress that voters can still go to the Board of Registrar’s office in their county, or meet up with the mobile unit that travels around the state processing voter IDs. But he also admitted the Registrar offices have no evening or weekend hours, which presents difficulties for those with full-time jobs or multiple jobs. As for the mobile unit, it generally visits just one county per day and is open for just two hours at a time.
In a recent campaign visit to Alabama, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton slammed the state’s Republican legislature for cutting funds for the DMV offices amid their budget crisis, calling it “a blast from the Jim Crow past.” Other critics have noted that both the voter ID law itself and the DMV closures could have been prevented had the full Voting Rights Act of 1965 not been severely limited by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling — based on a case that also originated in Alabama.
A federal bill to restore the Voting Rights Act’s protections was introduced in June, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has so far declined to take it up.