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Five years since Shelby County v. Holder: Alabama’s elected officials reiterate arguments about voting rights

During a Congressional Black Caucus-hosted ‘Panel on the State of Voting Rights’ last week, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) said that “we have gone backwards” when it comes to voter suppression.

Sewell made these remarks two days after the five-year anniversary of Shelby County v. Holder, a Supreme Court ruling which she and other Democrats say has gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, resulting in civil rights regress.

“I think we have seen a reversal of many [sic] of the progress that we’ve seen in voting rights,” she said, citing voter roll purgation, long polling lines, and photo ID laws.

Secretary of State John Merrill says that Sewell’s viewpoint is one that is more informed by politics than fact.

“We have not had a single incident occur, since the implementation of the voter ID law, where a person’s been denied access to the polls because they did not have the proper credentials when they went to vote,” Merrill told Yellowhammer News in an interview on Tuesday.

Merrill went on to discuss the more than 1 million new voter registrations since January of 2015.

“We’ve broken every record in the history of the state for voter participation under my watch,” Merrill said.

Despite those numbers, Rep. Sewell still recognizes numerous barriers.

In an op-ed published on AL.com last week, Sewell laid out how those factors mentioned above inhibit the rights of prospective voters.

The op-ed cites a study conducted by three researchers who found that “strict identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of racial and ethnic minorities in primaries and general elections.”

What divides Sewell and Merrill, and their respective parties, is a clear difference of opinion on the matter of what constitutes a substantive inhibition to voters.

Until the two reach some agreement on that question, the debate will continue.