Early this fall, the Republican legislature and governor of Alabama made huge budget cuts after a year of financial turbulence. These budget cuts resulted in the closing of many state-run locations, including five state parks and twenty-eight places to obtain a driver’s license.
You may see this as a small consequence to keep a state government up and running. And that may well be a reason. But for the 250,000 Alabamans are already deprived of a valid photo ID, closing the institutions that make licenses available will not make obtaining state-mandated identification any easier.
On top of this, half of the twenty-eight locations are in the so-called “Black Belt” of Alabama, a predominantly African American area, with black citizens making up more than 75% of registered voters in these counties.
According to the GOP, new voter identification laws were passed to combat the “ubiquitous” problem of voter fraud by making voters present a valid state identification, the most common form of which is a driver’s license.
From 2000 to 2014, there have been only thirty-one cases of voter impersonation fraud out of one billion ballots (Loyola University). For those wondering, that is a whopping 0.0000031% of ballots that were considered fraudulent.
John Archibald of The Birmingham News called it: “Not just a civil rights violation. It is not just a public relations nightmare. It is not just an invitation for worldwide scorn and an alarm bell to the Justice Department. It is an affront to the very notion of justice in a nation where one-man one vote is as precious as oxygen. It is a slap in the face to all who believe the stuff we teach the kids about how all are created equal. No matter the intent the consequence is the same.”
This “affront to the…notion of justice” destroys the American principle that every citizen gets the right to vote and tarnishes our democratic conscience. How can we be perceived as the greatest democracy while preventing citizens from voting?
Residents in counties without a place to get a driver’s license are now forced to travel long distances to obtain state issued identification. As a result, many constituents who are unable to travel long distances will now be denied the right to vote.
Hillary Clinton has called this “A blast from the Jim Crow past,” and has issued a call for a constitutional amendment addressing this problem.
Why is my nana—who does not even have a driver’s license— able to vote in New York while elderly African Americans in Alabama are not? This is wrong, no matter where you lay on the American political spectrum.
It is un-American to prohibit fellow citizens from voting in order to benefit a particular party. Unfortunately, Alabama is only a microcosm of dozens of other Republican-led state legislatures that have enacted similar voting identification laws. Seventeen states, including New Hampshire, Indiana, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Idaho, Rhode Island, and Hawaii, all require photo id similar to Alabama.
It is true that this may all be one big unintended consequence of budget cuts. Yet I have the nagging suspicion that Republican states have created voter ID laws for the ultimate goal of limiting the number of Democratic minority voters, as African Americans are eight times as likely to vote Democrat than Republican.
In a nation where liberty, democracy, and freedom are expressed through voting, this is the ultimate irony of the American political system.