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Michael A. Cohen

Alabama ‘clarifies’ voter ID confusion

If anyone still doubts that the Republican push for voter identification is really about limiting the franchise of Democratic voters — and in particular African-American voters — the state of Alabama has helpfully cleared up the confusion.

In 2014, Alabama passed a law that required all of its citizens have a photo ID in order to vote. The state’s Republican leaders argued at the time that this was a necessary tool for stopping voter fraud, even though voter fraud is practically nonexistent not only in Alabama, but also pretty much everywhere in the country.

OK, but let’s for a second pretend that Alabama’s GOP-led state legislature had its heart in the right place and was truly committed to the free and legal right of all its citizens to vote — and that it in no way was trying to limit voting rights. How then does one explain the fact that Alabama is now closing 31 driver’s license offices that are predominately located in African-American communities?

Wait, did I say predominately?


Sorry, I meant to say: almost exclusively. You see, according to John Archibald, a columnist for the Alabama Media Group and Al.com, “Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their [driver’s] license office closed. Every one.”

So, to put this in more layman’s terms: The state of Alabama has, by law, made it more difficult for voters in its state to vote. According to the Alabama secretary of state, about 500,000 state residents in 2014 didn’t have a photo ID (that’s 20 percent of those registered to vote). The law disproportionately affects poor people who would find it the most difficult to get a photo ID (Alabama helpfully raised the fee more than 50 percent for getting a driver’s license) and, in particular African-Americans, who voted in fewer numbers in 2014 in places where voter ID laws went into effect. In Alabama in 2014, the state had the lowest turnout in an election since 1986. Now Alabama is closing offices where state residents can get a license with a photo ID and doing it almost exclusively in places where black people live.


It’s almost as if, when Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a 2013 decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act and made Alabama’s Voter ID law possible, “Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare,” he was badly mistaken.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.