News Law and Policy

Lawsuit: Alabama Voter ID Law Intentionally Discriminatory

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday challenges a 2011 law advocates claim is designed to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters in the state.

Voting rights advocates filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging Alabama’s voter ID law, arguing it violates both the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the U.S. Constitution.

Led by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on behalf of the Alabama NAACP, the lawsuit argues Alabama’s voter ID law, passed by the state’s GOP-dominated legislature in 2011, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race. The law restricts in-person and absentee voting to people who are able to produce one of seven required forms of “valid” photo ID.

A prospective in-person voter without the required photo ID cannot cast a regular ballot unless two election officials present at the polling place choose to “positively identify” that person.

Although the law was passed in 2011, Alabama did not immediately seek to implement it because at the time of passage all voting law changes in Alabama were subject to pre-clearance review by the Department of Justice under Section 5 of the VRA. Under Section 5, Alabama was required to first obtain approval from the Department of Justice or a three-judge federal court before enforcing new voting laws that might burden voters of color.

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Alabama officials never sought pre-clearance review for its voter ID law, according to the complaint. Instead, Alabama officials delayed implementation of the law for two years while they waited for the final resolution of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a lawsuit brought by a county in Alabama challenging the constitutionality of the pre-clearance regime.

The Roberts Court in June 2013 ruled for Alabama, lifting its 50-year-old pre-clearance obligations under the VRA. The very next day, Alabama announced that it would enforce its voter ID law for the 2014 election cycle.

The Alabama secretary of state estimates the law has disfranchised at least 280,000 registered voters since enacted, according to the complaint. If it remains in place, advocates argue, hundreds of thousands more eligible and registered voters will be barred from voting in the years to come.

“It is no accident that a disproportionate number of those disfranchised voters are African-American and Latino,” the complaint states. “Indeed, the Photo ID Law is simply the latest chapter in Alabama’s long and brutal history of intentional racial discrimination.”

The complaint charges that Alabama’s voter ID law is part of a larger scheme that intentionally disenfranchises Black and Latino voters. Other examples cited in the complaint include the closing and limited operating hours of DMV locations in principally Black and Latino neighborhoods, making it more difficult for those individuals to get either a driver’s license or other photo ID to meet the law’s requirements.

The lawsuit seeks to block the voter ID law and voucher requirement. The lawsuit also asks the court to impose pre-clearance obligations under the VRA, which would once again require Alabama to seek federal approval before enforcing any changes to its voting laws.

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