Voter ID and Alabama’s Budget Mess

Budget cuts mean it is now harder to get an ID in much of Alabama.

Remember how in various debates here at OTB about voter ID laws and how they weren’t a big deal (according to some) because it is just so gosh darn easy to get an ID?


Take a look at the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters. That’s Macon, Greene, Sumter, Lowndes, Bullock, Perry, Wilcox, Dallas, Hale, and Montgomery, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. Alabama, thanks to its budgetary insanity and inanity, just opted to close driver license bureaus in eight of them. All but Dallas and Montgomery will be closed.

Closed. In a state in which driver licenses or special photo IDs are a requirement for voting.


Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one.


As I have stated before:  I am not opposed, in theory, to requiring an ID to vote–but only if such IDs are universal and free to all citizens.  This is rather that opposite of that (and it undercuts all those who scoffed at the idea that getting an ID is equally easy for all citizens).

It is true that these are sparsely populated areas of the state, but that does not mitigate the fact that it is now far more difficult for many citizens in the state to get their IDs (and, as noted, these are poor and predominantly black citizens).

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Kyle Huckins says:

    Just a reminder that this is the party that thinks James “O Keefe is an actual journalist.

  2. James Pearce says:

    Watch for an uptick in “Driving without a license” tickets, too.

  3. DrDaveT says:

    My wife has the perfect solution — Alabama needs the DMV version of a Bookmobile. Outfit a suitable truck or RV with the necessary office supplies and take the DMV to the people on a well-publicized schedule.

    I’d love to see the tap-dancing as AL Republicans try to explain why that’s a totally unacceptable thing to do…

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    When I was growing up in the 50s a “your papers please” society was used to scare the hell out of us about the Soviet Union and other East block countries. It is now necessary to have a photo ID to get on a plane, train or bus. It is also necessary to open a bank account and in some states necessary to vote. I’m not going to argue that this is not necessary but if it is the “papers” should be free and easy to get. Even here in the socialist republic of Oregon since I no longer drive the nearest DMV is a $20 round trip cab ride away. I already had my birth certificate but if I hadn’t it would have cost me $50. And then of course the photo ID itself is $10 a year and since they are issued for 8 years that’s $80. An undue burden for many.

  5. Lynn says:

    Several years ago, a Minneapolis assisted living facility decided to take the residents on a cruise, for which they would need passports.

    The staff started the paperwork some 6 months in advance of the trip. One man found that he needed to do an official name change in order to get his passport; that cost some $200.00. One of the women could find no official proof of her existence and never did get a passport. Several others needed months to get the paperwork together and a number had to pay small amounts for copies and so forth.

    I’d rather have a few people vote illegally than have some denied that right.

  6. Electroman says:

    @DrDaveT: Having lived in Alabama for a few years, I think there are a lot of things Alabama needs; that’s definitely one!

  7. Scott says:

    @Lynn: Exactly right. Which is worse: losing the right to vote because of institutional barriers or an illegal voter? I would argue being losing the right to vote is worse. Besides, the institutional barriers are much more common than the rare illegal voter. And corrosive to a functioning democracy.

  8. Tillman says:

    Look, we can’t help it if our actions undercut our words. Just pay more attention to our words.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott: Someone, I fail to remember who, remarked yesterday that in-person vote fraud in TX is rarer than being struck by lightning.

  10. Jeremy R says:

    The ACLU’s [Executive Director Susan] Watson said closing offices where voters can get required voter I.D.’s is the kind of action that would have been reviewed before this year by federal officials enforcing the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court overturned a key provision of that law this summer that required advance approval of state actions that affect elections.

    “It’s difficult to challenge” the closings now, Watson said.

  11. al-Ameda says:

    Well, Lincoln could have just let Alabama go, but no, he just had to preserve the Union.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    Poor Alabama…they lost the poll tax…they lost written exams…they even lost the Klan…but at least they’ve found new and inventive ways to keep certain people from voting…and I’m sure that most people are completely shocked that this is happening in a Republican-dominated state…

  13. James says:
  14. James says:

    Alabama also recently increases driver’s license fees by 54%. I had a link but the spam filter caught it so just Google it

  15. Stonetools says:

    I’m sure this is a complete coincidence and there must be an innocent explanation for this.

    Meanwhile, the only question now is whether the conservative wing of the SCOTUS was that dumb or naive when they gutted the Voting Rights Act or whether they meant for things like this to happen. My view: a reasonable person should be presume to intend the natural and probable consequences of their acts.

    I sure hope the ACLU is wrong about the difficulty of litigating this and that this can be reversed in time for 2016. Meanwhile if the SCOTUS had even a modicum of morality it should just admit it was wrong and invite a suit calling for a reconsideration of Shelby.

  16. Hal_10000 says:


    My wife has the perfect solution — Alabama needs the DMV version of a Bookmobile. Outfit a suitable truck or RV with the necessary office supplies and take the DMV to the people on a well-publicized schedule.

    This is precisely what Alabama is going to do. They’re going to allow people to get voter ID at any local Board of Registrars and will have a mobile service that will issue IDs (link).

  17. Jason Ashby says:

    @Hal_10000: that plan, limited as it is, only affects the provision of a Board of Registrar’s issued voter ID (which is a special ID that can only be used for voting identification, not for driver identification) and which doesn’t comply with Real ID requirements.

    Furthermore, even if such a mobile unit were to be used by the DMV to issue driver’s licenses, it would be insufficient.

    [Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill] said his office will have brought its mobile I.D. van to every county in Alabama by Oct. 31. He said the van will return to counties when requested. “If they can’t go to the board of registrars, we’ll bring a mobile crew down there,” Merrill said.

    This is hardly a substitute for the closure of 31 offices. A single van, traveling to 31 different counties, provides much less opportunity for Alabamians to obtain IDs.

    Further, as the Secretary notes, if the van misses a county, some official has to make a special request to ask it to return.

    We’re all familiar with the difficulties inherent in scheduling limited public resources to service a wide geographic area. It will be impossible for one demand-scheduled mobile unit to meaningfully provide an effective level of service to these counties, when compared to the level of service of 29 fixed locations operating on a fixed, published daily schedule.

    Further, any operations impacts to the mobile unit (such as maintenance or repair) will reduce its limited availability.

    Weather and geographical impacts (such as heavy rains or tornadoes, washed-out bridges, or blocked roads) will do likewise.

    And any scheduling impacts to personnel (such as time off, unexpected sick days, governmental furloughs) will seriously impact availability.

    Finally, in the crunch that precedes election time, when this van may be most in demand, its limited schedule and availability will have its greatest impact on voter registration.

  18. Grewgills says:

    @Jason Ashby:
    Of course, as far as the lawmakers that passed this legislation are concerned all of those things are features, not bugs.

  19. Sherparick says:

    @DrDaveT: Actually, that is the thin little cover they are offering in response to this action, that we will send “mobile units” so locals will be able to get their licenses renewed and get ID to vote “once a month.”

    This is a feature, not a bug.

  20. al-Ameda says:

    Well, thank god that the Supreme Court last year found that the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary, otherwise people might draw the wrong conclusions about what’s going on here.