MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law which outlawed discriminatory voting practices, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, which were adopted after the Civil War to prevent African-Americans from registering and exercising their right to vote. It also established new legal protections for minority voters at the polls.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R-AL) will join with the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the historic legislation.
“The state of Alabama and her people played pivotal roles and were featured in defining moments in the civil rights movement,” Secretary Merrill said in a press release. “It is because of the courage shown in Selma, Alabama, that we have made progress not only as a state, but a Nation. The passage of the Voting Rights Act has allowed us to make significant steps toward voting equality. As Secretary of State, I will continue to remind our citizens the importance of exercising their right to vote, and I will work to ensure that all eligible Alabamians can exercise their right to vote.”
Originally, Alabama and other southern states were subject to federal preclearance of any changes in voting law under section 4(b) of the VRA. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that provision in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder as it violated the “equal sovereignty of the states” by requiring that only some states get approval from the federal government based on “40 year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”
Contrary to popular belief, the Shelby County case did not completely eliminate the ability of the federal government to screen states’ voting laws under section 5, but merely eliminated Congress’ section 4(b) formula which was last updated in 1975. The federalism question surrounding the general idea of preclearance went undressed as the elimination of the formula rendered it inoperable.
Alabama’s sole Congressional Democrat, Terri Sewell (D-AL7), believes that the lack of federal oversight leads to discrimination. In a press release commemorating the VRA’s anniversary, Sewell specifically cited Voter ID laws as the voting rights issue of today.
“We need not count marbles in a jar or memorize the name of every county judge, but new barriers have replaced overt efforts to suppress voter turnout,” Sewell wrote. “These new barriers – such as voter ID laws or changing polling locations without public notice – have been passed off as measures needed to protect the vote, but in reality they have only made it harder to vote.”
In the 2008 case of Crawford v. Marion County Board of Election (Indiana), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that a statute requiring voters to present photo identification is constitutional as it is closely related to a state’s legitimate interest in preventing voter fraud, modernizing elections, and safeguarding voter confidence.
Last March, Alabama passed a Voter ID law requiring Alabama voters to show a photo ID before being allowed to vote. The law went into effect for the 2014 elections.
Numerous types of photo IDs can be used by voters, including an Alabama driver’s license or non-driver ID, college ID, military ID, government employee ID, federal ID or passport. However, the Alabama Secretary of State’s office said today that they believe roughly 250,000 adults in the state do not currently have any form of photo identification.
For those folks, the State of Alabama is offering a free voter ID, which can be obtained at any local county board of registrars’ or Dept. of Public Safety office or at the secretary of state’s headquarters in Montgomery. Forms of non-photo ID that can be used to obtain a free photo ID include most IDs with a person’s full legal name and date of birth. Fishing and hunting licenses, social security cards, birth certificates, marriage records, military records, Medicaid and Medicare documents and school transcripts are all acceptable.