DOT launches investigation in Alabama over DMV closures

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Federal agency probing Alabama license office reductions.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Federal officials will investigate whether Alabama violated civil rights law with closures and service reductions at rural driver’s license offices including many in counties with heavily minority populations, the U.S. The department announced the investigation Tuesday, saying that it will look into whether or not the closures violate Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, according to a news release. “Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday. “Driver License Offices offer essential services to the American people, including providing thousands in Alabama with a method of identification. The cutbacks already are under fire by civil rights activists who say they make it harder to get a photo ID, a requirement to vote under a new state law.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s administration said, in an effort to inconvenience as few people as possible, the DMV closures were targeted at areas where the offices served the fewest number of citizens. It is critical that these services be free of discrimination, and serve the people of the state fairly and equally.” The state as well as the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency receive “substantial Federal assistance from the Department, and, therefore, are subject to Title VI’s nondiscrimination prohibition,” the USDOT said. Foxx said the federal agency wants to make clear that compliance, “is not optional and that we will work to make sure all of its components are enforced.” In October, Alabama shuttered 31 part-time offices where state examiners gave driving tests once or twice per week.

Voting rights and civil rights advocates argue the laws could cause millions of voters, mostly minorities, to be turned away at the polls next year for not having the required ID. The decision, which state officials blamed on a tight budget, left 28 of Alabama’s 67 counties without a license office, including eight of the state’s 11 majority-black counties. At issue in Alabama is a decision by officials earlier this year to close or reduce hours at motor vehicle offices in 31 rural counties, many with significant black populations.

It is time for the Obama Administration and aspiring national politicians to listen to facts, stop wasting taxpayers’ dollars and put the political agendas away.” If federal transportation officials find there was discrimination, Alabama would have the chance to voluntarily comply with remedial steps, Foxx said. Despite facts to the contrary, opportunistic politicians such as Hillary Clinton have politicized an Alabama budgeting issue to serve their own agenda, going so far as to travel to our state for the sole purpose of political pandering. The suit claims requiring voters to show photo I.D. is “discriminatory” and would disenfranchise over 250,000 Alabamians, many of them black and latino, in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “The State’s deliberate decision to enforce this discriminatory photo ID law, followed by the DMV office closures, has compelled us to take action,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. “It is appalling that sixty years after Rosa Parks’ courageous protest in Montgomery and fifty years after voting rights activists marched in Selma, the Alabama Legislature continues to pass laws that are designed to deprive people of color of their basic civil rights.” “We want to make it real easy to vote and real hard to cheat,” Secretary Merrill said in a statement. “As of today, there have been no credible reports of a lack of ability for someone to cast their vote because of this law.” Merrill, who is responsible for administering and overseeing the state’s elections, says there will still be multiple opportunities for people in every county to obtain an I.D. — including a free state-issued voter I.D. — prior to election day. “All 67 counties in Alabama have a Board of Registrars that issue photo voter I.D. cards,” he said. “If for some reason those citizens are not able to make it to the Board of Registrars, we’ll bring our mobile I.D. van and crew to that county.” The van has already visited every county in the state at least once this year.

Some funds could come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other potential pots. “In Alabama, there are no subways or commuter rail lines, so this is how people get to jobs and how they get to schools,’’ Foxx said of driver’s licenses. “Fundamentally, it’s about access to transportation. The state also recently reached a settlement with the Department of Justice over the federal “motor voter” provision, which requires states to allow people applying for or renewing driver’s licenses the opportunity to register to vote. “If anything, this is a signal to states and local communities that when they’re using federal dollars, we expect them to be for all Americans,’’ he said.

Bentley’s administration announced the closures in September— after an unsuccessful effort to raise taxes — saying the offices were being shuttered to save travel costs and shift staff to the busier main license offices. The zealotry of those who wish to limit the franchise cannot be smothered by reason.” Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton said that “it’s a blast from the Jim Crow past” and Jesse Jackson claimed that “this new Jim Crow isn’t subtle.” “It’s really a sign of how desperate critics of voter-ID laws are that they would raise such inflammatory, ridiculous claims,” he said. “Alabama’s new voter-ID law for both in-person and absentee voting went into effect last year.

The 31 locations in 2014 collectively issued 5,000 learners permits and 3,149 driver’s licenses, and gave 10,587 permit exams, according to numbers from ALEA. I’ve written numerous papers looking at turnout data in states after ID laws became effective — ID laws have no discernible effect on decreasing or preventing turnout.”

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