Facing pressure, the state relented on some of the closings, instead operating a handful of the offices for fewer hours, but a U.S. Department of Transportation investigation still found that “African Americans residing in the Black Belt region of Alabama disproportionately underserved by ALEA’s driver licensing services, causing a disparate and adverse impact on the basis of race.” In an agreement with DOT last December, the state did agree to expand the hours of some of the offices.
Still, the incident illustrates the structures in the state that have only been nourished post-Shelby County that uniquely limit black voters. Racial disparities in access to acceptable forms of voter ID are a common objection to such strict laws, but they can overlook broader systemic effects of the laws and their rollouts on turnout. A study of Kansas’s strict ID law found that advertisement of the law alone decreased turnout, even as the law’s actual effects on ballot accessibility further cratered turnout themselves. It’s also just likely that implementing more restrictive voter laws chills faith in the system and turnout among people who’ve always been on the margins.
That last point is especially salient in Alabama, where officials have steadfastly refused to implement the kind of reforms that have continued the work of the Voting Rights Act and continually expanded black turnout over the years. Early voting, which has been a key factor for other states in increasing black turnout, is not permitted in Alabama. The state also doesn’t have no-fault absentee voting, preregistration for teens, or same-day registration.* In all, it’s harder to vote in Alabama than just about anywhere else, a dynamic that should tend towards cooling the turnout of people who’ve only been allowed to vote in the state for 50 years.
Until this year, the state retained a white-supremacist “moral turpitude” clause allowing registrars to block black people with felonies from voting. Although Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill in May reversing that rule, a federal court ruled that the state had no obligation to ever inform people with felonies that they could register to vote.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill—who has supported Moore even since the allegations—refused to invest any state resources on information or education after that reversal, and has also announced his opposition to automatic voter registration in DMVs, saying that the law “cheapen[s] the work” of civil-rights icons like Georgia Congressman John Lewis. And with some activists attempting to enforce that law and sign up ex-felons to vote, Moore wasted no time in blowing the dog whistle again, tweeting that “Democrat operatives in Alabama are REGISTERING THOUSANDS OF FELONS all across the state in an effort to swing the US Senate election to Doug Jones!”