US Rep. Terri Sewell opposes Alabama photo voter ID law
WASHINGTON -- The lone Democrat in Alabama's congressional delegation said Thursday that the state's new law requiring a voter to carry photo identification was a tactic to discourage people from voting and should be challenged in court.
"It's about suppression, not protection," said Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham.
The Alabama Legislature this year, under new Republican control, took Alabama's voter ID law one step further by requiring people to show not just documentation but also photographic proof of their identity before being allowed to vote. The new law takes effect in 2014 and was promoted by Republicans as a tool to ensure honest elections.
Sewell said it would be a burden on people who for whatever reason don't have a government-issued photo ID. Her father, for example, has been in a wheelchair for years, doesn't drive and doesn't have a driver's license. Her family will take him to get a photo ID as provided under the law, but not everyone will have the resources to do so, she said.
"He used his Social Security card, and that should be good enough," Sewell said.
Sewell questioned why the U.S. Department of Justice has not challenged the photo ID law. "It's interesting we're not seeing more activism from DOJ on this," she said.
The Alabama Secretary of State's Office and the Alabama Attorney General's Office said there are no legal challenges to the law so far. The law has not yet been submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice, which must certify that it does not discriminate against black voters before it can take effect.
The issue came up during Sewell's first seminar at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. Sewell, who took office in January as the state's first black female member of Congress, assembled a panel of commentators, scholars and politicians to discuss how voting trends have changed in the South since the election of President Barack Obama.
Part of the discussion was about various state laws around the country that Democrats argue are part of a GOP strategy to dampen turnout of black voters, such as cutting back on early voting. In response, Sewell said she would like to see Alabama adopt a policy that allows people to register to vote at the polling station on election day.
"I'm going to promote that," Sewell said.
Much of the discussion at Thursday's panel in a crowded meeting room at the Washington Convention Center was about coalition building, and how African-American voters can partner with other groups, such as Latinos, to help elect progressive Democrats to office.
"It is mind-boggling to me that the Republican Party holds together a coalition that includes traditional conservatives and poor, lower-income white Southerners," Sewell said. "That coalition gave them the Tea Party and it catapulted them to winning back state houses, so coalition building is going to be the key, I think."
The panelists included Will Crossley, Democratic National Committee counsel and director of voter protection; Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams, House Minority Leader; Cornell Belcher, pollster and president of Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies; Spencer Overton, law professor at the George Washington University Law School; and Michael Thurmond, former Georgia labor commissioner.