Protecting Voting Rights in Alabama

As part of our efforts to protect the right to vote across the country, LDF’s Political Participation Group wrote a letter to the Alabama Secretary of State, Jim Bennett, urging him to allow thousands of people to continue to vote under Alabama’s new voter photo identification (photo ID) law.

In the letter, Ryan Haygood and Deuel Ross ask the state to permit voters without photo ID — including as many as an estimated 31,000 African Americans under the age of thirty — to cast a regular ballot in-person on Election Day. Under the new Alabama law, a person without photo ID is still allowed to vote if two poll workers can “positively” identify, i.e. vouch for, him or her.

But here’s the problem: the language in the statute is dangerously ambiguous. As written, the voter ID law reinstates the antiquated and unconstitutional voucher test, which is explicitly banned under the same provision of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits literacy tests.

Historically, in Alabama, someone could only register to vote if a county official vouched for his or her identity. For instance, in Wilcox County, Alabama in 1965, voting officials vouched for 88 percent of white applicants, but not a single black applicant. Today, most poll workers in Alabama are white and roughly 60 percent of white people in the state have fewer than five acquaintances of a different race. As a result, and as in the past, the mostly white poll workers are largely unable to vouch for the many people of color who they do not personally know.

That’s why LDF, on behalf of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, the Alabama Lawyers Association, the Alabama Democratic Conference, Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Urban League of Alabama and others, strongly encourages the Secretary of State to conform the voter ID law to the Voting Rights Act. Specifically, the Secretary of State can adopt regulations clarifying that poll workers must vouch for persons who — even if not personally known to poll workers — are able to either present non-photo identification, sign an affidavit, or otherwise confirm their identity.