On Sept. 17,Governor Robert Bentley signed Alabama’s state budget for the 2016 fiscal year. As a result, closures for 31 DMV offices across the state have been announced, leaving only four open in Alabama, which has caused quite the controversy. Because of Alabama’s voter identification law, people are required to have a valid photo ID to vote, and most photo IDs are driver’s licenses.
While citizens will still be able to renew their driver’s licenses if it hasn’t been expired for more than three years a drivers test must be taken to obtain a license otherwise. If DMVs are closed, it will be difficult for individuals to obtain the proper photo identification to vote. In addition to the obvious issues with such, many claim this is a civil rights issue as well. Of the counties in which DMV offices will be closing, they are among the poorest in the state and have majority black populations.
Terri Sewell, an Alabama Congresswoman, has asked to Justice Department to intervene. In addition, 2016 presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both made comments on the issue. “A blast from the Jim Crow past,” Clinton said in reference to the issue.
While the closings won’t technically prevent anyone from voting, it will make it difficult and inconvenient. For individuals who simply need to renew their driver’s license, they can do so online. However, it is important to note that if many of the people this will effect the most are poor, Internet access may not be a luxury they can afford.
For those who will be required to take a drivers test to obtain a license, they will likely have to travel out of town to do so. Again, this is something that many may not have the option to do financially.
As a result of the backlash and controversy, Bentley recently announced that DMV offices would not close permanently anymore, but instead only be open once a month. While this can be viewed as an improvement, this will simply add to the already existing chaos individuals face when visiting the DMV.
We understand the necessity of balancing the state budget and realize that it is not easy to make cuts. However, closing DMV offices, regardless of which county they were located in, should have never been an option. There are too many other areas in which budget cuts could’ve been made that would’ve produced a better result financially.
Some people have said this may have been a scare tactic used by Bentley so that people would agree to raising taxes. We also think it is interesting that counties who identify as Democratic would be affected the most, while the state of Alabama is generally a Republican state, currently with a Republican governor.
Regardless, there is much we do not know and have no way of knowing. But we do know there are better ways to balance the budget, ethically and financially.