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Sewell Denounces Drivers Office Decision

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, October 2, US Representative Terri Sewell (D) denounced the decision by Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) Director Spencer Collier and the Administration of Governor Robert Bentley (R) to close 31 driver’s license offices, most of them in rural areas of the State.
Rep. Sewell said, “Alabama needs to figure out a better way to balance the budget than on the backs of low-income people in communities of color.”

sewell5Congresswoman Sewell said that the decision disproportionally impacts residents in the 7th Congressional District….her district.  Rep. Sewell said, “The voices of our most vulnerable citizens have been further silenced by the decision to close 31 driver’s license offices across Alabama. Under Alabama’s voter ID law, only a handful of photo identification can be used at polling places, and the state-issued driver’s license is the most popular form of identification presented. To limit access to obtaining a driver’s license — while insisting on a photo ID to vote — is an unconscionable and overt barrier to voting.”

Rep. Sewell continued, “Twenty-nine counties in Alabama will have no driver’s license offices, of which 15 of those counties are located in the rural parts of the Black Belt. This fact means many of my constituents who have limited modes of transportation will be denied an equal opportunity to obtain a means to vote. To restrict the ability of any Alabamian to vote is an assault on the rights of all Alabamians to equally participate in the electoral process.  When the State of Alabama started requiring a photo ID to vote in 2014, officials claimed it would reduce voter fraud. The reality is that voter fraud is rare, and the net result of the Alabama photo ID law has been to restrict equal access to ballot box for low-income, senior and disabled citizens.”

Rep. Sewell concluded, “The closure decision combined with the voter ID law is eerily reminiscent of past, discriminatory practices such as poll taxes and literacy tests that restricted the black vote. I seriously question the judgement behind the closing driver’s license offices in the most vulnerable communities. The State of Alabama should either rescind its requirement for voter IDs at the polling place or allow these offices to stay open. I am calling on Alabama lawmakers to reverse this ill-conceived decision and to rescind the voter ID law. As elected officials, we should be encouraging citizens to vote, not creating barriers that limit access to the ballot box. We should restore the vote, rather than restrict it.”

Secretary of State John Merrill (R) said that despite the decision by ALEA to close the 31 driver license offices it should not impair their ability to get a photo identification for voting.  Merrill said in a statement that if a voter does not have a valid form of identification for voting, they may go to their local Board of Registrar’s office to receive a free Alabama Photo ID card. Each county has a Board of Registrar’s office. Alabama’s Registrars are glad to assist voters obtain identification.

Under Alabama’s Photo Voter Identification law, the following are acceptable identification on election day as long as they are valid and unexpired: Driver’s license, Nondriver ID, Alabama Photo Voter ID card, State Issued ID, Federal Issued ID, US Passport, Employee ID from the Federal Government, State of Alabama, County, Municipality, Board or other entity of Alabama, Student or employee ID from a public of private college or university in the State of Alabama, Military ID, or a Tribal ID.

Additionally to assist voters in obtaining identification for voting, the Secretary of State’s office has dispatched a mobile unit to 56 of the 67 counties in Alabama at least once since Secretary Merrill took office in January.  The mobile unit will have visited 28 of the 30 counties who are losing drivers license offices at least once by the end of the month.

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In October, the mobile unit will be in Blount, Cherokee, Conecuh, Covington, Escambia, Henry, Houston, Jefferson, Lee, Mobile, Pike, and Washington Counties.  For specific information on the location of the mobile unit in your county, visit Secretary Merrill said that he is committed to dispatching the mobile unit to all 67 counties at least once by the end of the year.

For more information or for groups interested in hosting a mobile unit in their community, please call the Office of the Secretary of State at 334-353-7854.

ALEA officials blame the closings on the legislature which cut $12 million from their 2016 General Fund budget allocation.  Legislators say that ALEA raised the driver’s license fees by $12 to 20 million in January thus with even with the $12 million cut was actually level funded and did not need to make those cuts.

House Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Arthur Orr (R) told North Alabama radio host Dale Jackson on Friday that he expects the legislature will pass legislation in the 2015 legislative session which requires that ALEA send a driver’s license examiner at least once a month to every county in Alabama.  The legislature added wording to the 2016 budget preventing such cuts and Collier and Bentley did them anyway, claiming that the legislature had exceeded its authority.

The decision to close the offices has been condemned by Republicans and Democrats in Alabama and has even been condemned by Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and MSNBC cable news personality Rachel Maddow.

The 31 offices combined only issue five percent of the driver’s licenses in Alabama.


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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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