A voter leaves the First Baptist Church Pelham Annex after casting his ballot in the Republican Presidential Primary March 13, 2012 in Pelham, Ala.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

Alabama agrees to boost voter registration chances

Alabama has agreed to make changes to its voter registration system, it announced Friday, settling claims by the U.S. Department of Justice that it violated a federal law meant to make it easier to register.

The Justice Department said it found “widespread noncompliance” with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, also known as the “motor voter” law, which requires that states offer voter registration opportunities whenever someone applies for or renew their driver’s license or other identification documents.

“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “[Alabama is] working quickly and cooperatively with the department to ensure that eligible Alabama citizens can register to vote and update their registration information through motor vehicle agencies, with the convenience they deserve and the ease of access the law requires.”

Alabama’s decision to make an agreement came after DOJ threatened a lawsuit in September.

Under the agreement, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which offers driver’s licenses, is required to ask applicants whether they wish to register to vote, and provide the necessary forms to do so. By June of next year, the state is expected to implement an electronic voter registration system to work with applications for driver’s’ licenses or other forms of personal identification.

Alabama is also mandated to: contact all eligible voters who may have missed the opportunity to register to vote before Friday’s agreement, and update voter registration information after receiving change-of-address cards. And the Secretary of State should mail registration forms to eligible, unregistered voters with driver’s licenses by July 31.

Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, said thanks to the deal, Alabama will avoid “spending time and money on litigation, allowing state resources to instead be directed to making it easier for Alabama citizens to register to vote.”

Friday’s agreement comes on the heels of the closing of 31 driver’s license offices located in several heavily black counties, which the state said is due to budget constraints. Residents and civil rights advocates warned that the closures are another obstacle to voting, since the state requires voters to present ID, which could be obtained at the DMV offices. Rep. Terri Sewell wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch in October, urging her to launch a probe into the closures, which are not covered under Friday’s agreement.