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National spotlight turns to Alabama voting rights controversy

How serious is the Alabama voting rights controversy? It's "a slap in the face to all who believe the stuff we teach the kids about how all are created equal."
Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)
Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012.

On September 30th, my Black Belt constituents were dealt yet another devastating blow when it was announced by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency that it would close 31 driver's license offices. The decision left 8 out of the 14 counties in my district without a DMV that will issue driver's licenses. Many of the residents affected by this decision will have to travel miles outside of their communities to take a driver's tests and obtain state-issued identification. This fact means many of my constituents who have limited modes of transportation will be denied an equal opportunity to obtain a means to vote.

MSNBC's Zach Roth reported today that the Alabama congresswoman has "formally asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the state’s shuttering of driver’s license offices in several heavily black counties."
Sewell has also urged state officials in Alabama to either keep these DMV offices open so that voters can obtain the materials necessary to vote, or "rescind the voter ID law" so that all eligible Alabamans can go back to the voter-access laws that existed before Republicans imposed the current burden to address a problem that didn't exist.
Roth's MSNBC report added, "The issue has also found its way into the presidential race. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton issued a statement Friday warning the driver’s license office closings are 'only going to make it harder for people to vote,' and calling them 'a blast from the Jim Crow past.'"
For those who are new to the story, let's revisit Friday's segment, because this isn't just another local voting-rights story.
There's a swath along much of central Alabama that has long been known as the state's Black Belt -- in part because it's home to a particular kind of rich, dark soil, and also because of the slaves who were brought to the area to work on cotton plantations. To this day, in these counties across Alabama, African Americans tend to outnumber white residents.
And this also means it's the part of Alabama where Democratic voters tend to outnumber Republican voters, even in this Deep South, ruby-red state.
This geographical background took on great significance recently, when Alabama's Republican governor, Robert Bentley, signed an emergency budget measure, passed by the GOP-led legislature, which closed DMV offices in 28 counties. This matters for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is voting rights -- closing DMV offices makes it that much more difficult for voters to obtain identification necessary to cast a ballot.
But note where the specific offices permanently closed their doors. As Rachel explained:

"Of the 28 counties losing, the place in that county where you get a driver's license, half of them are in the Alabama Black Belt.  Half.... Of the counties in that state where three-quarters of the registered voters are black, every single one of those counties -- every single one of them -- is losing a place where you can get a driver's license that would let you vote in Alabama.  Every one of the states, every one of the counties, which is more than 75 percent black. "These are the ten counties where Barack Obama posted his biggest wins in Alabama in the year 2012.  In eight of those ten counties, you will no longer be able to get a driver's license.  In case you wanted to get one to use it as your ID to vote."

The Birmingham News' John Archibald added, "It's not just a civil rights violation. It is not just a public relations nightmare. It is not just an invitation for worldwide scorn and an alarm bell to the Justice Department. It is an affront to the very notion of justice in a nation where one man one vote is as precious as oxygen. It is a slap in the face to all who believe the stuff we teach the kids about how all are created equal."
There have been additional developments since Friday's segment, so look for some more on this on tonight's show.