NAACP challenges Alabama’s voter ID law as racially discriminatory, citing DMV closures

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund announced today that they have filed a lawsuit challenging Alabama’s voter ID law in federal court.

As the group wrote in a press release:

Anti-voter ID protest, via Creative Common

Anti-voter ID protest, via Creative Common

The complaint alleges that Alabama enacted a photo ID law that the State’s own initial analysis showed would disfranchise over a quarter of a million registered voters, a disproportionate number of whom are Black and Latino, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The photo ID law is one of three intentionally discriminatory measures passed by the 2011-12 Alabama Legislature. The other two — the State’s legislative redistricting plans and House Bill 56 — have already been successfully challenged in federal court. The lawsuit also comes shortly after Alabama’s decision to largely close 31 DMV offices, which has made it much more difficult for Black and Latino voters to get driver’s licenses, the most common form of photo ID.

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.

The LDF noted that Alabama’s law was passed before the Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirements, but that the state delayed implementation of the law specifically to avoid federal scrutiny. On the day after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the state announced the law would go into effect, suggesting that it did not trust that the law would survive federal scrutiny as to whether it was racially discriminatory.

Furthermore, the LDF has warned the state that portions of the law are being interpreted as an illegal “voucher” requirement, which is banned under parts of the Voting Rights Act that remain standing.

Furthermore, the state has rejected suggestions for changes in the law’s implementation that would lessen its effects. For example, as the LDF notes, the state denied requests from voting rights advocates to include public housing IDs in the list of acceptable forms of identification. 71 percent of the state’s public housing residents are black, compared to 25 percent of the state’s overall population.

Alabama’s is but the latest voter ID law to face court challenges. Lawsuits are currently pending in states ranging from Virginia to Wisconsin in advance of the 2016 election. Texas’s was recently struck down in federal appeals court, and could soon find itself before the Supreme Court. While most voter ID cases hinge on whether the court applies the disparate impact test, which invalidates laws that have racially discriminatory effects regardless of the laws’ intent, this case may not need to. The way in which Alabama has gone about implementing its voter ID law suggests that the law has been implemented with racially discriminatory intent. That should be enough to knock it down.

We’ll see how the court decides.

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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