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Alabama wants to shut more Americans out of our democracy

Alabama voter ID laws and DMV closures show need to restore the Voting Rights Act

by Isaac Chae

In Alabama, the right to drink may be more sacred than the right to vote.

Following the state’s passage of a strict voter ID law, which took effect in 2014, the state has now closed 31 out of 78 DMV offices, leaving 28 Alabama counties without a place to obtain driver’s licenses, and making it even more difficult for Alabamians to access the ballot.

The state says it closed the DMVs to save money, due to $82 million shortfall in the state budget. But at the same time, state-run liquor stores that have been hemorrhaging money are being kept open because “customer constituents have to drive further to get a bottle,” in the words of the Alabama Beverage Control Board Administrator.

While savings from closing 31 DMV centers are estimated to amount to only $100,000, a single state-run liquor store in Bibbs county has lost $75,000 in a single year despite Alabama having one of the highest liquor taxes and state markups in the country.

Based on this, it seems that the state is less concerned about saving money, and more interested in restricting access to the ballot.

An estimated 250,000 eligible voters in Alabama do not possess a valid state issued photo ID. The effects of the state’s voter ID law have already been felt as Alabama’s voter participation rate plunged to 41 percent in the 2014 Midterm elections, the first time it has dropped below 50 percent since 1986. Hundreds of voter ballots were discounted, with 40 percent of the disqualified ballots coming from majority-black counties.

The state’s DMV closures will disproportionately impact minorities in the state, including Asian Americans. About 5,500 Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) reside in counties without a DMV center in Alabama, adding another hurdle to the many barriers to voting Asian Americans face, including discrimination and limited English proficiency.

It’s more clear than ever why that we need to restore the Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Supreme Court gutted the law in 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder, opening the door for Alabama to pass its voter ID law and making it harder for Americans to participate in our democracy.

Advancing Justice | AAJC has been calling on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act since the high court’s decision, and there are two bills in Congress that aim to do so. This past week, we also saw the introduction of a new #RestoreTheVOTE initiative led by the Congressional Asian Pacific American, Black, and Hispanic Caucuses to protect the Voices Of The Excluded (VOTE), who have been denied the right to vote.

Hopefully this new leadership will galvanize support for legislation that ensures access to the ballot for communities like ours that have long dealt with discrimination and language barriers at the polls, and continue to see new obstacles to exercising the right to vote.

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