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By Ian Pelletier
October 13, 2015
Caption : The Center for American Progress held an event Tuesday, October 6 to address the issue of voter suppression and changing voter laws, focusing specifically on the DMV closures in Alabama and its relationship to the Voting Rights Act.     

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, the watershed moment for the civil rights movement, was passed in order to limit the suppression of voters.  Section five of the Voting Rights Act says that any change with respect to voting in a covered jurisdiction cannot be legally enforced until reviewed and approved by either the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia, a concept known as preclearance.  In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down this section of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. As such, states with documented histories of voter discrimination are no longer required to request approval for voting procedure changes.  The Center for American Progress held an event Tuesday, October 6 to address the issue of voter suppression and changing voter laws, focusing specifically on the DMV closures in Alabama and its relationship to the Voting Rights Act.

In 2011, Alabama passed a voter identification law requiring citizens to hold a state-issued ID if they wanted to vote. Now, four years after enacting the voter ID law, the state is making it significantly harder for citizens to obtain the required ID by closing down many DMV offices—the only place residents can get a state-issued ID. “Because there is no discrimination check,” said Senior Policy Analyst for Open Society Foundations Julie Fernandes, “this is allowed to go into effect to impact voters.” Ari Berman, author of “Give Us The Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America”and political correspondent for The Nation, highlighted the numerous changes to voting rights laws in 2011. Referring to the cutting of early voting, shutting down of registration drives, and the new voter ID law, he said: “We had never seen one state do all of these things at once so soon after a ruling.”

The voters affected are from low-income, rural, and largely black communities.  Eight of every 10 counties that will experience DMV closures “have the largest African American, registered voting population,” said Representative Terri Sewell (D-Ala.).  “There is no denying that the…impact of this decision has a disproportionate effect on African Americans, on low-income and…rural communities.”

Circumstances such as the ones presented in Alabama have led to House Democrats proposing new legislation, called the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, or VRAA.  This legislation would require any state that has more than 14 voting rights violations over the past 25 years to submit any changes to their voting laws to the Department of Justice or District Court for the District of Columbia. The law also gives states the ability to redeem themselves by avoiding further violations for 10 years.  If passed, this would initially impact 13 states, and “not just deep South states” according to Representative Sewell.

Berman, agreeing with the need for the VRAA, said that voter suppression “is not a theoretical thing,” but a documented phenomenon affecting real people in tangible ways.

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