Alabama Republicans clearly worried about voter ID suit

Don’t look now, but Alabama’s top elected executives don’t look all that confident that they have a strong defense in the lawsuit that was just filed against the state’s voter ID law.

How do I know? Because they’re lying about their attempts to make voting easier in the state.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, via Wikimedia Commons

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, via Wikimedia Commons

Governor Robert Bentley responded to the NAACP’s lawsuit, which charges (rather convincingly) that Alabama’s voter ID law discriminates against the state’s non-white voters, by claiming that his state was already working with the federal government in order to address concerns with the law. As he wrote in a statement, “The State of Alabama signed an agreement approximately three weeks ago with the Department of Justice to address some concerns related to Alabama’s photo id law.  I am proud of Alabama’s efforts to reach a sensible solution with the Dept. of Justice.” As MSNBC’s Zachary Roth pointed out today, this is deliberately misleading at best. Alabama recently announced that it would change the way it implements the National Voter Registration Act so as to bring it into full federal compliance, avoiding a separate lawsuit. That has nothing to do with its voter ID law, the implementation of which was delayed specifically to avoid federal scrutiny.

Secretary of State John Merrill, for his part, claimed that the law at issue in the suit hasn’t kept anyone from voting. As he said in his own statement, “Empirical data would indicate that the photo ID requirement is in no way a barrier or obstacle to voting.” As the suit itself shows, the claim that the law doesn’t make it harder to vote completely false. From the NAACP’s press release announcing their suit:

The complaint includes the story of a nearly 18-year-old high school student who will be unable to vote in the 2016 elections because she does not have a photo ID. The closest DMV office to her is open only one day a month, and she would need to travel more than 40 miles round-trip to a DMV office with more generous hours. But, she has never driven and there is no public transportation from her hometown to either DMV office.

Specific, individual cases aside, Alabama’s voter ID law has been shown to have kept large numbers of citizens from voting in the aggregate. As the NAACP’s lawsuit states, “At least 629 provisional and absentee ballots (66 provisional and 563 absentee) cast in the 2014 primary and general elections by voters without the required photo ID were not counted because the voters failed to ‘cure’ their ballots pursuant to the Photo ID Law’s inadequate fail-safe procedures.” As Roth notes, Alabama isn’t even disputing this claim:

Asked about the uncounted absentee ballots, Kayla Farnon, Merrill’s press secretary, appeared to confirm the point that the ID law was responsible for those votes not counting. “Any absentee ballots that were not counted were not counted due to the fact that they did not include a photo ID in compliance with the law,” she wrote.

That doesn’t even touch on the fact that the state declined to include public housing IDs on the list of acceptable IDs when voting rights advocates asked them to do so. 71 percent of Alabama’s public housing residents are black, compared to 25 percent of the overall population. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that Alabama recently closed nearly half of the state’s offices where citizens can apply for a drivers license. The closures disproportionately affected majority-minority counties. As drivers licenses are the most common form of photo ID among the list of acceptable IDs under Alabama’s law, this has placed an undue burden on a large number of (disproportionately black) citizens who want to exercise their right to vote. For no good reason.

At the end of the day, Alabama’s voter ID law has discriminatory effects, and was almost certainly passed and implemented with discriminatory intent. That those charged with defending the law have to make up stories in order to claim otherwise suggests that they’re well aware that this is the case.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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