AL License office closing provides minor savings
October 16, 2015
Southern Torch (3842 articles)
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AL License office closing provides minor savings

By Joseph M. Morgan

joseph@southerntorch.com

MONTGOMERY, Ala.—The recent closure of 31 rural Drivers License offices by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) will only result in saving about $100,000 to go towards meeting the $11 million budget shortfall ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier said is responsible for requiring the closing of the offices.

On paper Collier’s claim is accurate. The Legislature did indeed cut ALEA’s budget this year by roughly $11 million—from $55 million to $44.6 million. Legislators made the cuts in response to ALEA’s move earlier in the year to significantly increase the cost of driver’s license fees—a measure that will add $12.7 million to ALEA coffers.

Collier acknowledged in a statement last week that the measure will only save about $100,000, but says closing the 31 statewide offices is a “necessary redeployment of limited staff.”

National criticism proves completely unfounded

Because many of the rural office closures occurred in Alabama’s Black Belt, a region with a high percentage of minority residents, ALEA’s moves triggered criticism followed by accusations of racism and voter fraud. Alabama’s election laws require state-issued identification to be presented on election day in order to vote. Democrats and activists from around the country accused Gov. Bentley and other Alabama Republicans of intentionally closing offices in regions heavily populated by blacks in order to suppress votes by preventing minorities from being able to obtain identification from the local offices.

These claims come from a handful of high-profile Democrats, including former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In fact, Clinton said the closings hearkened back to the segregation era. Rev. Jesse Jackson was so distraught, he came all the way to Alabama to discuss the issue with Gov. Bentley and Sec. of State John Merrill. Jackson described the closing of the AL Drivers License offices as “a return to Alabama’s Jim Crow past.” Alabama’s own U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate the closings, citing concerns about ballot access and travel for those affected.

Democrat leaders like Clinton and Jackson openly accused Alabama’s Governor, Secretary of State, Legislature “and other white Republicans” as being racists who were intentionally and elaborately attempting to disenfranchise voters.

In response to Jackson’s accusations, Sec. of State Joh Merrill provided something that had unfortunately to that point eluded many—the facts. According to Merrill, the offices in the 31 counties losing offices only issued or renewed about 8,900 licenses and non-driver identification cards in 2014, less than one-half of one percent of the 551,911 active or inactive voters in those counties. In the 12 Black Belt counties that will lose offices, the number of voters affected—both black and white voters combined—only make up 2.1 percent of the 128,788 electorate.

It is unclear what motivated ALEA to close 31 offices throughout the state. Some say the governor is using closings as leverage to force legislators to sign on to his $350 million tax increase package. Or perhaps it is simply an effort to continue a claim that the agency is in financial straits in order to gain additional funding, or an effort to make good on threats made earlier this year by ALEA and the governor’s office to shut down a number of state agencies and services in response to the Alabama Legislature’s refusal to enact the governor’s proposed increase of $350 million in new taxes. Whatever the reason for the office closures, despite the claims and accusations from Democrat leaders like Jesse Jackson and Hillary Clinton, Alabamians can be certain of one thing: this is not a plot by Republicans to suppress minority votes.

Southern Torch

Southern Torch

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