MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Civil rights groups are again challenging a federal judge’s ruling that an Alabama law requiring a government-issued photo ID for voting is not discriminatory.
Legal counsel for the Alabama NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries and minority voters filed an appeal in the U.S. district court in northern Alabama on Wednesday.
Since 2014, Alabama has required voters to show government-issued photo identification when they vote. The civil rights groups sued over the law in 2015, calling it discriminatory and an infringement on voting rights. They contended Alabama politicians knew when they enacted it that Black and Latino voters “disproportionately lack the required photo ID.”
U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler ruled in favor of the state in January. He concluded that the state makes provisions to help voters get IDs, including a mobile service that will make home visits if needed.
Natasha Merle, NAACP’s Legal and Education Defense Fund assistant counsel, told The Associated Press that the court erred in depending on the mobile service to register all voters.
“The district court acknowledged our evidence that over 100,000 voters, disproportionately Black and Latino voters, lack the required photo ID to vote, but suggested the disparities are not significant,” Merle said. “The disenfranchisement of several thousand voters is not trivial. We will continue to fight to ensure every eligible Alabama voter can make their voice heard at the ballot box.”
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said the law was intended to combat voter fraud and increase turnout. He said voters could get the ID at any registrar during regular business hours or request the mobile service.
“If they will show me one person who does not have photo ID or who can’t vote, I will send someone to their house today that will help them be registered to vote,” Merrill said. “That’s why we had the voter ID lawsuit dismissed.”
Merrill said that the mobile service visited less than 10 homes since the lawsuit was filed. The appeal confirms it was five.
One of those visits followed court testimony by plaintiff Elizabeth Ware, a 60-year-old African-American voter from Mobile County. Her photo ID was stolen in 2014, but she was turned away when she tried to replace it. After her testimony, Merrill offered to send the mobile service to visit her home, where the state issued her an ID. She previously said she didn’t know anything about the service, which is only advertised online.
The plaintiffs are asking for a trial, which Coogler canceled, to be rescheduled and the issue resolved before the state’s primary elections in June.
Merle said problems with the photo IDs were already recorded at December’s special Senate election. A report from legal fellow Jennifer Holmes, who was on the ground in Alabama, said some voters in Mobile County were turned away at the polls because their addresses on the photo IDs didn’t match the addresses in the voting records. — (AP)