Alabama closes nearly half of its drivers license bureaus, complicating photo ID requirement

Alabama requires a photo ID in order to vote. For nearly everyone, that means a drivers license.

Which is why it’s a major deal, to say the least, that the state just cut the number of locations where citizens can get drivers licenses in half — a move that disproportionately affects low-income and African-American residents.

Red counties will now be devoid of drivers license bureaus, via Kyle Whitmire /

Red counties will now be devoid of drivers license bureaus, via Kyle Whitmire /

According to Kyle Whitmire at, the state Law Enforcement Agency announced yesterday that, after a series of closures of drivers license bureaus, 29 of Alabama’s 67 counties will be without an office where citizens can obtain a drivers license. As Whitmire’s colleague, John Archibald, adds, eight of the ten counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters in the state will be without a drivers license bureau and every resident of a county that is at least 75 percent African-American will have go to another county to obtain their drivers license.

State officials are citing budgetary constraints for the bureau closings, which isn’t all that absurd of a claim. Facing budget shortfalls, all kinds of public services in Alabama are either being cut back or eliminated. But the demographics of counties in the state that are seeing their drivers license bureaus go, as compared to the counties that are keeping them, suggests that Governor Robert Bentley’s administration didn’t miss an opportunity to turn a budgetary shortfall into a political gain. And as both Whitmire and Archibald note, the resulting disparity in the effects of these bureau closing are all but inviting a civil rights suit.

Because even if the decision to close the bureaus in question was racially and politically neutral (a generous assumption, but let’s grant it for a moment), its effects aren’t. By Archibald’s tally, eight of the fifteen counties in Alabama that voted for President Obama in 2012, along with the five most Democratic counties in the state, are seeing their drivers license bureaus close. According to Whitmire, between twelve and fifteen counties in the state’s “Black Belt” will be without a bureau.

This would be bad enough in any other state, but in Alabama it serves as yet another reminder as to why pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act was so necessary before the Supreme Court gutted it. As Archibald wrote:

So roll out the welcome wagon to the Justice Department, and tell the world what it already so desperately wants to hear.

That Alabama is exactly what they always thought she was.

That Alabama refuses to pay for its own government, and used it as an excuse to keep black people from the polls. That Alabama hasn’t changed a bit.

You can’t on the one hand require a form of ID in order to vote while at the same time curtailing access to that form of ID. If anything, you’re supposed to make that form of ID easier to obtain, or completely free.

Enough Alabamans have already been denied access to the ballot over the state’s photo ID requirements. Ridiculousness like this is why we need a constitutional right to vote.

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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14 Responses to “Alabama closes nearly half of its drivers license bureaus, complicating photo ID requirement”

  1. johnmartin says:

    All the Blacks just happen to be in the districts that were closed. thanks Supreme Court for realizing that there is no reason for protecting minorities in the South. Racism doesn’t exist anymore.

  2. ComradeRutherford says:

    This is ONLY about preventing Democrats from voting, that’s all this is. Now that the Robert’s Court has overturned yet more settled law (Roberts blatantly lied during his confirmation hearings), the South is allowed to discriminate against voters again. Republicans know that can never win by telling the truth about their policies, the only wan they can sin is by rigging the elections like this.

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  4. Michele2015 says:

    I know that over 4 years ago Houston Co (the one in the bottom right-hand corner that has a somewhat economically viable town in its borders, Dothan with approx. 67 thousand residents — where I grew up and lived at the time) had to cut having its DL/DMV/etc. office from being open on Fridays because of the state’s budget restraints. There was even talk about cutting the daily hours further down from the 6 available for obtaining these documents. The 2 red counties connected to it are extremely poor and have no larger cities/towns in them. It’s not just the high black count in these counties; it’s also where the farmers live and produce. These are simple low-residence counties with low education and few job opportunities.

  5. Butch1 says:

    It wouldn’t hurt my feeling now.

  6. Butch1 says:

    The red states get Federally funded by two major blue states; California and New York, yet they continually make fun of Obamacare and other Social programs that actually keep them afloat. One has to wonder where they would be if we just pulled the plug on them and let them take care of themselves for a change.

  7. Butch1 says:

    No tampering with voter’s rights here, no sir re bob! Nothing to look at kids, just your regular republican run government denying some voters their right to vote assuring that the republicans will stay in office.

  8. nicho says:

    Have their votes overcounted properly.

  9. BeccaM says:

    I’ve taken to calling it “a slow-rolling coup.” Step by step, the GOPers won’t be satisfied until they have their permanent voting majority…and they’ll gladly do it by ensuring only their supporters get to vote (and to have their votes counted properly).

  10. Naja pallida says:

    Radical gerrymandering, shuffling the polling places so those in Democratic leaning districts have long waits or poor access, strict voter ID requirements, robocalls giving wrong information about voting, and now this. They won’t stop until they have discouraged anyone who might even think about voting Democratic from going to the polls.

  11. Indigo says:

    It takes only one word to explain what that’s about, “Alabama.”

  12. nicho says:

    We should have just let them go the first time.

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  14. Outspoken1 says:

    Took an extra 150+ years, but the South is finally winning the Civil War.

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