Sewell Speaks Out Against Voter Suppression at Birmingham Field Hearing
BIRMINGHAM, AL – The House Administration Subcommittee on Elections held a field hearing Monday to examine voting rights and elections systems in Alabama.
The hearing is one in a series the House committee is holding around the country to create a public record of voter suppression and the need for federal pre-clearance enforcement. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) who introduced legislation earlier this year to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by developing a modern-day formula to determine which states must pre-clear election changes with the Department of Justice, spoke at length about the impact of the 2013 Supreme Court Shelby County v. Holder decision on voting rights in America.
“We need federal oversight in the state of Alabama,” Sewell said. “You learned today that Alabama has a more restrictive voter ID law now than it did before the Shelby v. Holder case. You learned today that the problem disproportionately affects minorities, rural communities, the elderly and the disabled. … the cost of freedom, we know, is never free. It is paid by those who have fought for this right that we have and for us to sit where we sit in Congress to do the right thing.”
“Alabama has closed polling places, enacted a strict voter ID law, been slow to restore the rights of previously incarcerated citizens, attempted to close DMV offices that issue the valid IDs in predominantly-minority areas and more,” said Elections Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Marcia Fudge (OH-11). “The greatest democracy in the world must not regress. We must recognize our faults and continue to move forward; we must progress.”
Video of Rep. Sewell’s closing statement is available here.
WHAT THE WITNESSES SAID:
Jenny Carroll, Chair of the Alabama State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: “The days of a sheriff standing in the doorway of the polling place may be a thing of the past, but current voting regulations may produce the same effect on minority and poor populations in our state. The method may be softer, more subtle, but the results are exactly the same. … From voter identification laws, to curtailed polling places, to limited polling hours, to lack of early voting, to no no-excuse absentee balloting, Alabama election laws disproportionately affect the voters in our state even as they claim to improve election integrity. Such laws create barriers to voting in their reliance on either a one-size fits all notion of Alabama voters in which every citizen interested in casting a ballot has access to the required identification and documentation, transportation and the resources necessary to realize the right to vote, or they rely on the noting that small impediments to voting are tolerable.”
Carroll continued: “If you are poor, if you are a person of color in the state of Alabama, it is a longer, harder road to the ballot box. Even today, and I would say increasingly so. … We need a comprehensive, federal law that will deal with this.”
Benard Simelton, President of Alabama NAACP: “When the SCOTUS handed down its decision in 2013 in the Shelby v. Holder case, Alabama legislators worked extremely hard to ensure that it is more difficult to vote and register to vote. First and foremost, Alabama implemented the photo ID law. That ID law prohibited lots of individuals from being able to vote. It is estimated that at that particular time there was approximately 118,000 people who were immediately disenfranchised because they didn’t have the photo ID required.”
Voting rights attorney James U. Blacksher: “Immediately after Shelby County v. Holder was handed down Alabama proceeded to implement and enact new racially discriminatory restrictions on the ability of its citizens to register and vote, including a photo ID law, closure of driver license offices in the Black Belt, and a request for authorization to require proof of citizenship in the federal voter registration form. At least 66 polling places have been closed, and the City of Evergreen in Conecuh County has been bailed in under Section 3c of the VRA following litigation challenging a number of discriminatory voting practices.”
Nancy Abudu, Deputy Legal Director, Voting Rights, Southern Poverty Law Center: “We see that as a result of this voter ID law, people continue to be disparately impacted, and those individuals, by coincidence, happen to be voters of color and low-income individuals, which results in depressing voter participation in the state.”
Scott Douglas, Executive Director, Greater Birmingham Ministries: “Money is obviously a burden, by definition, for low-income people. Even obtaining the ‘free’ state-issued photo ID requires people to draw on scarce funds to compile the underlying documents. The list of accepted documents required to obtain a voter ID card is limited, and includes, for example, a birth certificate, hospital record, census record, military record, Medicare or Medicaid document, social security document, certificate of citizenship, or official school record or transcript. Many of these must be requested from a government agency and may include a fee. … Alabama’s photo ID law is the new poll tax, but the reason for its existence is the same as the old one.”
Ernest Montgomery, City of Calera City Council member: “Our government must commit to assuring that every citizen be included, every barrier destroyed, every election, from our local schools all the way to our federal elections, be fair. I hope our elected leaders in Washington, D.C. can come up with some solution to protect every person’s right to vote by some formula or preclearance. For we all know, it has been said that one ounce of prevention is more valuable than a pound of cure.”
Isabel Rubio, Executive Director, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama: “The legislation that we have seen, the attitudes and the environment here [in Alabama] is explicitly geared at continuing to oppress, marginalize and further alienate people who want to be included in our community and who make really important contributions every day.”