For more than a dozen years, Alabama voters have been required to show identification before they could be issued a ballot, but photo IDs have not been required. Beginning with the June 3 primary, Alabamians will have to show specific photo IDs in order to vote.
Some are concerned about the change. “It is so crazy and it’s going to cause so much confusion,” said LaShon White-Menefee, lead community organizer for Birmingham Faith in Action, which works with churches to educate people about issues.
“It’s a modern form of poll tax to me,” she said. “We are resilient. We can get out and vote and let our voices be heard, no matter what the obstacle.”
The list of IDs that can be used at polls include a valid driver’s license, valid non-driver ID, a valid state-issued ID from any state, a valid federal-issued ID, a valid U.S. passport, a valid employee ID issued by a government entity, a valid student or employee ID from an Alabama college or university, a valid military ID and a valid tribal ID. Under Alabama law, a driver’s license is considered valid for 60 days after its expiration date.
The other option is a valid Alabama photo voter ID. Those are being issued without charge at board of registrars offices in all 67 counties and through mobile units now making stops around the state.
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Alabama) said the law is discriminatory towards elderly or disabled voters, who often do not have a driver’s license or other photo ID, as well as many low-income or unemployed people who may not have a photo ID because they don’t own a car or have a steady job.
She cited the example of her own father. “Dad suffered several strokes and has been wheelchair bound for a number of years,” Sewell said. “He hasn’t had a driver’s license or other photo ID and hasn’t needed one. For many years, he has voted with his validly issued social security card, and I believe that should be more than sufficient.”
Sewell said she and her mother can take her father to the courthouse to get a voter ID but “many are not as fortunate and will be disenfranchised as a result. This is simply unacceptable.”
State Sen. Hank Sanders (D-Selma) wrote an open letter last month to Sewell and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. He wrote that the voter ID law is one reason he wants changes made to the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 that is now under consideration in Congress.
Sanders’ letter compared the photo ID law to the literacy tests used 75 years ago to exclude blacks and other citizens from voting and said the results will be the same. “By the time local officials implement these voter photo ID laws, they will be something far worse than they appear on their face.”
Sewell said Sanders has valid points. She believes the voter ID law will prevent some people who have voted in the past from voting.
White-Menefee said some voters might shy away from getting a voter ID because applying for a voter ID if you already have a photo ID that can be used to vote is a Class C felony under state law. The application for a voter ID states, “Any falsification or fraud in the making of this application shall constitute a Class C felony.”
A mobile unit will spend a week in Jefferson County in May, but White-Menefee said she is concerned that none of the stops are in the city of Birmingham. “Of the 10 places they are visiting, only three places have a high minority population. Those are Bessemer, Center Point and Brighton,” she said.
Emily Thompson, deputy Alabama secretary of state, said that was done deliberately for logistical reasons. “We’re going outside of the city limits because the registrars office is always open. It is located in downtown Birmingham,” she said.
Thompson said locations could be added. “We’re taking requests from individuals if they know of a need in the community,” she said. “Right now, the schedule is going to remain as it is. If we have time, we will add additional locations.”
White-Menefee is concerned that many voters may not know about the new requirement, which the Alabama Legislature enacted in 2011.
The law could not go into effect until a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling gutted the section of the Voting Rights act that required certain states and local governments to get “pre-clearance” from the U.S. attorney general or a panel of U.S. District Court judges before making any changes to voting laws or rules.
Thompson pointed out that the secretary of state’s office has begun running radio and television ads about the voter ID law. “We’re doing the best we can right now to implement this law,” she said. “We’re doing a good job of getting the word out.”
Thompson said, “We’ve had a really good response to our mobile units in the last two weeks.”
The state and registrars offices had issued only about 530 voter IDs by April 4. She said Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett estimated no more than 2,000 would be issued before the June 3 primary because Georgia, which is more populous, issued 2,000 the first year when its voter ID law went into effect.
“It’s very important that people respond to our ads…and take the opportunity to go get an ID,” Thompson said.
To get a voter photo ID, voters must present documents that show their full name and date of birth, either a birth certificate or other form of documentation. Thompson said the secretary of state’s office has arranged with the Alabama Department of Health to get birth certificates for voters who don’t have them.
“All we have to do is to contact the Department of Health and they will issue a digital copy of the birth certificate for that person,” she said. “It is a process that can be done while they are in the office applying for their ID.”
She said voters who go to the poll without the required ID can still cast a provisional ballot. State law gives them until the Friday after an election “to go to the board of registrars to prove they are who they said they are. … If they don’t have a photo ID, they could go get one made for free after the election,” she said.
For information on the law, including the schedule for the mobile units, click here.
White-Menefee is speaking at churches to educate voters about the new law. Voter registration drives are paired with those events. Anyone who wishes to speak with her about scheduling an event may call (205) 401-3335.
According to published reports, Vice President Joe Biden also is concerned about voter ID laws in Alabama and other states. “These guys never go away,” Biden said of supporters of voter ID laws. “Hatred never, never goes away. The zealotry of those who wish to limit the franchise cannot be smothered by reason.”
Opponents of voter ID laws in Alabama and other states that have adopted them view the laws as a continuation of efforts to limit voting rights and point to the voting rights movement of the 1960s.
Biden said, “This fight has been too long, this fight has been too hard, to do anything other than win.”
Thompson said the Alabama secretary of state supports the new law. “Secretary Bennett has always said it is a matter of protection for the voter. He sees this as an important thing to do for our election process,” she said.
But others in Alabama, including staff members at the Southern Poverty Law Center, also are displeased with the new law. “SPLC is disappointed that the Alabama Legislature has further limited the fundamental right to vote,” said Sam Brooke, senior staff attorney.
“As we quickly approach the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, our state’s leaders should be seeking to expand the franchise to all citizens, rather than creating additional hurdles that make it more difficult for the poor, those in rural areas and minorities to vote. Alabama is not alone in adopting these restrictive measures, but our leaders are stubbornly continuing to place our state on the wrong side of history.”
Bernard Simelton, state NAACP chairman, said his organization has several issues with the voter ID law. “Our concerns are about trying to ensure that, first of all, people know about the new law. I don’t think they have done a very good job getting the word out to all the communities,” he said. “I have seen – I think – one commercial on TV from Secretay Bennett. It was more about the mobile sites.”
He said, “I think it’s going to disenfranchise a number of voters who won’t be able to get the ID because they don’t have a birth certificate” and are not aware the mobile units and registrars offices can handle that. “It’s going to be an extra burden on people, particularly the elderly who don’t have transportation to get the ID.”
Simelton said, “The NAACP doesn’t see the need for the ID.”
NAACP branches around the state will work to inform people about the new law. The organization is having a kickoff April 12 for a voter education campaign that will include the voter ID law.
Jeffery Jones, chairman of the voting rights and voter suppression committee of the Save Ourselves Summit: The Movement for Democracy and Justice, thinks Congress needs to take action to ensure voter rights.
“There are groups…that want to stay in power. Since the inception of the U.S. Constitution, there has never been any amendment that gives full rights to citizenship and the right to vote,” he said. He said each of the constitutional amendments that address voting rights falls short of full constitutional protection.
SOS is a network of 32 Alabama and Mississippi organizations that was formed in response to the pre-clearance issue that the Supreme Court decided.
Jones said, “From a personal note, I don’t think we need to continue to play politics with the right to vote. … We are trying to create a state watchdog group for voting rights.”
He said statistics show about 500,000 people in Alabama, or about 20 percent of voters, lack a photo ID, which should concern everyone.
“The voter ID law itself sets up a new challenge for all voters in Alabama,” Jones said. “Because 50 years ago there was major discrimination, most people think voting is a black problem. That’s not true. It is a problem for democracy.”