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After Licensing Center Woes, Stricter Motor-Voter Laws for Alabama

By: Bridget Clerkin November 16, 2015

Alabama is accused of failing to provide mandated opportunities for voter registration throughout the state.

In the wake of a controversy surrounding the decision to close several dozen licensing centers around the state, Alabama has been left to deal with claims that it was not providing residents sufficient voter registration opportunities through its Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

The state was accused of “widespread noncompliance” with a provision of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which requires motor vehicle departments to offer voter registration forms each time a resident applies for a new or renewed driver’s license, among other actions.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) levied the charges after its Civil Rights Division investigated the state’s DMV practices earlier this year. In September, the national organization threatened to sue Alabama if it did not amend its ways. Last week, the state entered an official agreement to resolve those claims.

The allegations center around Section 5 of the NVRA, which is known as the “motor voter” provision. The DOJ reported that aside from new and renewed license applications not coming with a voter registration form in Alabama, the state failed to provide the opportunity for those applying for learner’s licenses, state identification cards, and vessel licenses.

Alabama also did not utilize DMV “change of address” paperwork as notification of a change of address for voter registration purposes, which is also required by the NVRA, the Justice Department reported.

A 15-page memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the state and the federal agency was signed last week, in which Alabama promised to “fully integrate” a voter registration opportunity into all applications for driver’s licenses, identification documents, and renewal applications, both in person and online.

The state also pledged to use all change of address information it receives via the DMV to keep an updated database of voters’ addresses.

To make amends for those who were denied voting registration opportunities previously, Alabama will contact all eligible voters who are not currently registered to vote—at the most recent address used on his or her license or state ID card—by July 31, 2016.

In the interim, the state will focus on its DMV training, reporting, public education, and consulting with the DOJ, according to the MOU.

The new agreement comes as the state has begun reopening 31 rural licensing centers, which were shuttered in October due to financial concerns, according to the state.

Opponents of the closures painted them as an attempt to marginalize the black vote in Alabama elections by restricting access to driver’s licenses in predominantly African-American areas, in a state that now requires officially-issued photo identification to participate at the polls.

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