By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, October 7, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) met with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Black lawmakers about the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) decision to close 31 part time driver’s license offices in mostly rural counties. Secretary of State John Merrill (R) was also there to explain how our voter ID system works.
The Bentley Administration released a statement afterwards: “Governor Bentley listened to the concerns raised today by Reverend Jesse Jackson. Secretary Merrill explained the options for citizens to receive a photo id in order to vote. Governor Bentley and the Legislative Black Caucus agreed to work together to find solutions to further fund driver license offices in Alabama’s rural counties.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote in his column, “In Alabama, 50 years after Selma, voting rights are once more under assault. Even as Alabama finally took down its confederate flags this year, it has raised new obstacles to voting. The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder to gut the Voting Rights Act, supported by the five conservative justices alone, opened the floodgates to legislation in over 21 states erecting new obstacles to make voting more difficult. These have included limiting the days for early voting, eliminating Sunday voting, requiring various forms of ID, shutting down voting sites and more. Alabama — the home of Selma and the Bloody Sunday police riot that spurred the passage of the original Voting Rights Act 50 years ago — is one of the leaders in the new forms of voter suppression. Alabama passed a bill requiring for the first time a photo ID for voting, hitting African-Americans, the poor, the young and the old disproportionately. Now Alabama is using a budget squeeze to shut down 31 satellite offices that issue driver’s licenses, the most popular form of voter ID. This new Jim Crow isn’t subtle.”
Motorists can still renew their existing driver’s licenses at the Probate Judge’s office at their court house. They can also get voter ID cards from their Board of Registrar’s office. Additionally the Secretary of State’s office has been sending a mobile unit to every county in the state. To apply for a first time driver’s license motorists may have to travel outside of their county.
Senate Minority Leader Quinton T. Ross (D-Montgomery) said, “While we knew that budget cuts were inevitable, because of refusal of the governor to expand Medicaid, and the lack of leadership by the Republican Supermajority to raise the necessary revenue for the General Fund; it seems the governor has instructed agencies to be punitive in the most economically deprived areas of our State.”
Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said, “The State only had one person working in the county offices about one day a week conducting the tests, because the county employees were running the drivers’ license stations. So, why do you have to shut that down? That’s my problem with this.”
Bentley has said that the closures were based on the number of motorists using the offices and were business decisions. Bentley denies that this was an attempt to suppress poor people from voting. Alabama requires that registered voters present a photo ID to vote.
Sen. Singleton said, “I personally think that the governor is being petty. He said he was going to punish all the people who didn’t vote for his taxes and most of the Black legislators did not vote for his taxes. If he had not come out and said that, then I couldn’t make these accusations.”
Sen. Hank Sanders (D-Selma) said, “Eleven of 31 satellite offices that will be closed are in the Black Belt: Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, and Wilcox counties. Put another way, drivers’ license offices will be closed in 85 percent of the Black Belt.”
Sen. Singleton said, “Most of the rural communities already have problems with transportation. This is only going to make things worse. How will residents get to locations several counties over? It just isn’t good to be poor in Alabama right now. This General Fund budget was balanced the on the back of poor folks. Had we expanded Medicaid, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.”
ALEA only saved an estimated $1.5 million a year by closing the 31 offices. The 31 offices combined issued less than five percent of all the driver’s licenses issued by the State of Alabama.
Jackson is vowing to fight to get the offices reopened.