MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A civil rights group on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit challenging Alabama's photo voter ID law as an infringement on voting rights and an attempt to suppress the influence of black and Hispanic voters.
The Greater Birmingham Ministries and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed the suit Wednesday in Birmingham federal court. Alabama's law requires voters to show a valid state-issued photo identification at the polls in order to vote. The law went into effect in the 2014 elections.
"It is appalling that, 60 years after Rosa Parks' courageous protest in Montgomery and 50 years after voting rights activists marched in Selma, the Alabama Legislature continues to pass laws that are designed to deprive people of color of their basic civil rights," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
The lawsuit is the latest attempt to roll back voter ID requirements implemented in Republican-controlled states. The U.S. Justice Department challenged photo identification requirements in North Carolina and Texas, and a federal appeals court in August found the Texas law to be discriminatory.
States that have implemented the requirements say the measures are needed to curb voter fraud. Opponents, often Democrats, say the requirement presents a barrier to the ballot box for poor, minority and elderly voters.
The lawsuit contends that Alabama politicians who created and backed the law knew that black and Latino voters "disproportionately lack the required photo ID."
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said his office will review the lawsuit.
"Voting rights are important to every citizen, and it is imperative that every Alabamian who is eligible to vote have the ability to vote," Bentley said in a statement. "A photo ID protects the process of voting and ensures fair elections are held."
The Alabama GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011 approved the photo identification requirement to begin with the 2014 primaries. However, the law was effectively on hold until the U.S Supreme Court, in a case arising out of Alabama, freed mostly Southern states from the requirement to have all voting laws and changes pre-cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Alabama law requires people to show a photo ID such as a valid driver's license, state-issued identification card, passport, student ID from a public university, or tribal or state employee ID. People who don't possess the identification can vote only if two election workers recognize them at the polls, or they can cast a provisional ballot which will be counted if they submit the required documents within the next few days.
County registrars do make free IDs for voting purposes, but the lawsuit says getting that ID requires a person to have a birth certificate or other identification documents that older and low-income voters might not possess.
Ifill said the organizations were compelled to take action a year after the law went into effect after the state earlier this year first closed, but dramatically then curtailed, driver's license office hours in rural counties, including counties with high numbers of African-Americans.
The lawsuit says the problems are demonstrated in the case of a high school student, called "G.A." in the lawsuit. The Latina teen wants to register to vote, but the closest driver's license office is open one day per month, and her parents would have difficulty getting her to the next closest office, a 45-mile drive roundtrip, according to the lawsuit.
Sixteen states in 2014 had photo identification requirements at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although some are stricter than others.