The controversial move to close 31 rural Alabama licensing centers on October 1 may be reversed as early as November, after questions of whether the closures were a voting rights issue caused a national uproar.
Alabama Governor Robert Brantley announced earlier this month that he has asked the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) to staff the centers at least one day a month moving forward.
While an outline has not yet been released for when the openings would begin or how they will be funded, ALEA spokeswoman Anna Morris said the agency would “absorb the cost.”
The state’s ABC News syndicate also reported earlier this month that Brantley said he may use a bridge loan or emergency fund to reopen the offices, however he has asked the state legislature to support revenue increases next year in return for the openings.
All told, the move—which Brantley described in the past as a cost-saving measure—saved $100,000, according to a report by the Associated Press. That figure has been criticized by some Alabama legislators, who said the Driver’s License Division was already working at half capacity—with 103 of its 255 positions remaining vacant—and the state could have trimmed fat from meatier budgets.
The about-face regarding the centers, which issue new licenses and reissue suspended licenses, takes place in the wake of the passionate debate on voting rights sparked by the closings.
Critics of the move have argued that it makes obtaining a driver’s license much more difficult for the residents of those areas, a majority of whom are African-American. The lack of proper identification would make it much more challenging for those residents to vote in Alabama, due to a strict voter identification policy in the state requiring a state-issued photo ID to be presented at the polls.
The issue was pushed to national prominence by a number of opponents, including black and rural caucuses in the Alabama legislature, and it came to a head after U.S. Representative Terri Sewell, Alabama’s lone African-American representative, called for a Justice Department investigation into the closings.
The centers in question represented just 5 percent of total business for the Driver’s License Division, according to state officials. When open, they were part-time facilities, operating one day a week.
Currently, the centers closed in Alabama include:
- The Russellville office on North Jackson Avenue.
- The Moulton office on Market Street.
As well as offices located in the counties of:
- St. Clair.