NAACP Legal Defense Fund: More than 100,000 Alabama registered voters can’t cast a ballot
More than 100,000 registered voters in Alabama can’t vote because they don’t have the photo identification required by the state, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said Friday.
And most of those who don’t have the photo identifications are poor, black or Latino, the lawyer says.
A federal lawsuit challenging Alabama’s requirement that voters present photo identification before they can cast a ballot was filed in 2015 on behalf of the Alabama NAACP and Greater Birmingham Ministries. The lawsuit alleges the 2011 photo ID law is racially discriminatory, violating the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
A trial has been set for December in the case.
The Alabama attorney general’s office, which represents Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill in the lawsuit, declined comment Friday.
“Plaintiffs’ (the NAACP LDF and ministries) recently submitted expert reports estimated that over 100,000 Alabama registered voters lack photo IDs that can be used to vote and that black and Latino voters are nearly twice as likely as white voters to lack such IDs,” said Deuel Ross, a lead LDF attorney.
LDF experts compared the list of the 2.8 million registered Alabama voters to three federal databases of photo identifications — passports, veteran identifications and military IDs, Ross said. The experts also reviewed the database of driver’s licenses and non-driver’s license identifications issued by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, he said.
Overall, LDF estimates 118,000 registered voters in Alabama did not have the correct photo identification, Ross said.
Ross said he could not provide the reports. The reports are not public because they have confidential voter information, he said.
A survey sampling some of the 118,000 voters was also conducted, Ross said.
Based on the experts review and survey, LDF estimates 3 percent of white voters, about 5.5 percent of black voters and 6.1 percent of Latino voters did not have a photo ID that would allow them to cast a ballot, Ross said.
Voters who did not have the required voter identifications were largely poor, making less than $10,000 a year, and don’t have vehicles nor driver’s licenses, Ross said.
The cost of a state of Alabama driver’s license or photo ID through ALEA is $36.25. The Alabama Secretary of State website, however, says a free photo ID is available through local registrar offices.
More than 1,000 voters tried, but were unable to have their ballots counted because of voter ID law in the November election, Ross said. Those voters were given provisional ballots on Election Day, but were unable to come back and present a photo identification, he said.
Others didn’t bother to vote because they knew they didn’t have a photo ID, Ross said.
The Alabama secretary of state’s office, however, had originally estimated that a higher number of voters would be blocked from voting under the new photo ID law.
The lawsuit cites a statement from the secretary of state’s office made in March 2014 that a check of Alabama registered voters against the ALEA database revealed 560,000 people lacked an ALEA-issued driver’s license or non-driver ID card.
But the secretary of state also stated about half of those 560,000 voters possessed another one of the required photo IDs, according to the lawsuit. “Thus, Defendant Secretary of State concluded that approximately 280,000 registered voters lack any form of the required photo ID,” the lawsuit states.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Scott Coogler dismissed all claims in the lawsuit against Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Attorney General Steve Marshall and ALEA director Stan Stabler.
The NAACP LDF and Greater Birmingham Ministries’ controversy in this case is with Secretary of State John Merrill, who is especially designated to implement all aspects of the photo ID law, Coogler wrote in his opinion. Merrill has not contested he is a proper defendant, he wrote.
“Plaintiffs do not have standing to sue the Governor, the Attorney General, and the ALEA Secretary. Further, these Defendants and the State of Alabama are protected by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity,” Coogler wrote.
Ross disagreed with the decision.
ALEA should be in the lawsuit because it gives out the most common form of photo ID, driver’s licenses, Ross said. The attorney general should be in the lawsuit because the photo ID law includes criminal repercussions for those who violate it, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley should be included because he was involved in the 2015 closure of some driver’s license offices.
“While we respectfully disagree with Judge Coogler’s reasoning, his decision does not change the nature of our case,” Ross said. “Nor does it change LDF’s and our co-counsel Covington Burling and Herman Johnson Jr.’s commitment to seeking justice for our clients and all Alabama voters.”
Changed at 9:35 a.m. March 5 to correct spelling of Ross’s first name