Justice Department to monitor Alabama municipal elections, South Carolina voter ID trial begins

Federal election monitors from the US Department of Justice will monitor municipal elections in three cities in Alabama today, to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Alabama is home to one of the most restrictive immigration laws in the US and its requirements may also have side effects including voter suppression. Another Voter ID bill is being challenged in court, South Carolina v. United States, a case involving South Carolina’s restrictive photo identification law started yesterday at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Justice Department officials are assigning election monitors in Alabama based on the Department’s enforcement authority granted under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The Department has not provided an official comment as to why those three cities were specifically chosen, although a local press account notes recent scrutiny of the state’s severe immigration law as a possible reason for election monitoring, as election monitors have also been assigned in Arizona which takes a similarly harsh view of potentially illegal immigrants in their state.

A US Court of Appeals recently blocked a number of provisions in the Alabama law which is the harshest in the country and relies on the doctrine of ‘self-deportation’ to keep illegal immigrants out of the state. In essence, the law seeks to make daily life for illegal immigrants virtually impossible by inserting a number of “papers please,” checkpoints into otherwise mundane activities like registering children for public school or turning on utilities at a property. As CivSource reported, immediately after the bill was passed the state faced a variety of problems with enforceability and the embarrassing arrests of local, high profile business leaders who were immigrants, but were also legal. The Governor had to step in to have them released.

It seems that now, as a result of this law, individuals voting in municipal elections will be required to present their papers and may result in voter suppression.

In Washington DC yesterday, another in a growing list of court cases over voter ID laws went to trial. South Carolina’s photo ID law, which only allows for the use of only a limited number of photo IDs when voting in-person at the polls, was previously rejected by the United States Department of Justice. The state is working to appeal the decision.

“As the Department of Justice previously recognized, South Carolina’s proposed photo identification measure would be harmful to minority voters,” said Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel of the Political Participation Group at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is working on the case. “According to South Carolina’s own data, minority registered voters were nearly 20 percent more likely to lack a photo ID issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles than white registered voters, and thus to be effectively disfranchised by the state’s proposed requirements. Indeed, there are more than 80,000 registered minority citizens in South Carolina who lack a DMV-issued photo ID.”

As noted in a Washington Post account of the trial, none of the examples of voter fraud the state presented as support for the law would have been thwarted by the presence of a photo ID.

The trial will continue this week.

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