Rural Alabama residents are not happy state law enforcement closed 31 satellite driver’s license offices Wednesday. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency says the closures were due to an eleven million dollar cut in the new budget that went into effect Thursday. While drivers can still renew their license in most counties, they’ll have to travel further to get a new one.
Particularly hard hit is the Black Belt, which is one of the poorest regions in the state.
Lowndes County Commissioner Carnell McAlpine regularly lets teens borrow one of his cars to take the driving test, but that’s going to be a lot harder now that the satellite office in his county is closed.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency says the closed offices accounted for less than five percent of the driver’s licenses issued in the state. Even though his office was only open one day a week, McAlpine says it was critical.
“That five percent is for us,” McApline says. “We need more offices close to us, cause of the travel time and economics. So, basically they are saying we don’t matter.”
Now people in Lowndes County have to drive to Montgomery or Selma which is about an hour away. Lowndes is one of the poorest counties in the state. McApline says many families don’t have a car and pay people to drive them to the store, to the hospital, and to get a driver’s license.
Lowndes is also predominately African American. Harriett Means is a retired professor who lives there. She thinks that’s one reason the rural offices were closed.
“I absolutely think it’s racism by another word,” says Means.
Last year, a new state law went into effect requiring voters to show a state issued picture ID, usually a driver’s license, in order to vote. Now Means worries it will be harder and more expensive to get a license, so a lot of people will be unable to vote.
“It is a poll tax,” Means says, referring to tax levied in during Jim Cow that prevented poor people from voting. “The ways of obstructing poor people, African Americans from voting has taken on a different hue, but it’s the same thing. It’s the same result.”
A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office said voter IDs are not a poll tax, because they don’t cost any money. She explained voter IDs are still available at county Board of Registrars. Voter ID supporters have repeatedly said it’s not an attempt to disenfranchise citizens but will cut down on voter fraud.