BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) - Two civil rights groups are challenging an Alabama photo I.D. law, claiming in court the voting requirement will "disfranchise at least 280,000" registered black and Latino voters.
In a complaint filed in Birmingham Federal Court on Dec. 2 the NAACP and the Greater Birmingham Ministries cite Alabama's "long and brutal history of intentional racial discrimination" to assail the photo I.D. law, "whose purported purpose is to prevent voter fraud".
The lawsuit states, "For five decades, Alabama's use of discriminatory voting schemes has necessitated repeated federal intervention. Now, Alabama again seeks to disfranchise thousands of African-American and Latino voters - all in the name of 'curing' a voter fraud problem that does not exist."
Plaintiffs sued the state of Alabama as well as Gov. Robert Bentley, Attorney General Luther Strange, Secretary of State John Merrill and Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Spencer Collier.
In doing so the plaintiffs allege that defendants "know or have reason to know that African-American and Latino eligible voters disproportionately lack the required photo ID," the complaint says.
This is because many of the minorities affected live in rural areas, are disproportionately impoverished and have a lower rate of vehicle ownership. To further discriminate against minorities living in these areas, the complaint alleges that in September 2015, defendants announced it was closing 31 part-time license offices, including many in the so called "black belt" where the African-American poverty rate is 41 percent.
The complaint continues, "Closures of the ALEA offices in these eight counties would further reinforce the disproportionate barriers to voting faced by residents of such counties, which have high rates of poverty and limited transportation options."
According to the complaint, the law was passed in 2011, but was not immediately implemented because at the time, all voting law changes in Alabama were subject to preclearance and the state was obligated to obtain approval from the Department of Justice.
Instead, Alabama waited two years until the resolution of a lawsuit challenging the preclearance requirements. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court "lifted Alabama's nearly fifty-year-old preclearance obligations" and plaintiffs say the very next day, Alabama announced it would be enforcing the Photo ID Law restricting voting to individuals who are unable to produce a valid form of identification, the complaint says.
The lawsuit cites examples of elderly black voters who were turned away at the polls because they did not have the proper identification and it states that the November 4, 2014 election had the lowest voter turnout with some voters saying they were deterred from going to the polls because of the new law.
Plaintiffs claim in 2014, they met in person with defendant Collier to raise their concerns about the Photo ID Law. Plaintiffs requested that defendants operate mobile ID units on weekends and evenings in African-American communities to help voters obtain the proper identification and they also requested that photo IDs issued by public housing authorities be ruled acceptable for voting under the new law. Defendants rejected both requests.
Gov. Bentley issued a written statement in response to the lawsuit that said: "Voting rights are important to every citizen, and it is imperative that every Alabamian who is eligible to vote have the ability to vote. A photo id protects the process of voting and ensures fair elections are held.
"The State of Alabama signed an agreement approximately three weeks ago with the Department of Justice to address some concerns related to Alabama's photo id law. I am proud of Alabama's efforts to reach a sensible solution with the Department of Justice and for our state's progress to ensure all eligible citizens have access to a free photo id to vote. We have not been served with the complaint and will do a legal review of it once it is officially received by the Governor's Office."
In her own written release, Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., said, "The State's deliberate decision to enforce this discriminatory photo ID law, followed by the DMV office closures, has compelled us to take this action".
"It is appalling that, sixty years after Rosa Parks' courageous protest in Montgomery and fifty years after voting rights activists marched into Selma, the Alabama Legislature continues to pass laws that are designed to deprive people of color of their basic civil rights, Ifill continues," Ifill adds.
Bernard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP added, "If the Alabama photo ID law is not blocked, it will silence the voices of thousands of Alabamians, especially Africa-Americans, the poor and other minorities in 2016."
Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Photo ID Law results in the denial of equal access of African-American and Latino voters to the political process and they seek an injunction enjoining defendants from enforcing the requirements of the law.
They are represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., Covington & Burling LLP and local Birmingham attorney Edward Still.
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