Thursday, October 8, 2015

Darrio Melton: You can’t run the state like a business

  Fifty years ago, American democracy fundamentally shifted in Selma, Alabama. As men and women from all walks of life joined together to march in solidarity for the precious principle of "one man, one vote," the nation watched and took note. What happened in Selma 50 years ago changed this nation, and what's happening in Alabama is rolling the clock back.

  The Selma to Montgomery march brought us the Voting Rights Act, which banned discriminatory voting practices and resulted in mass enfranchisement of minorities across the nation and especially across the South.

  One of the most critical components of the Voting Rights Act was the pre-clearance provision, a requirement that areas with a history of discriminatory practices had to have any changes to voting laws approved by the Department of Justice to ensure they were fair. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned this provision in 2013, paving the way for states and municipalities to make any changes they deem appropriate.

  Without pre-clearance, Alabama was free to enact legislation to require a photo ID in order to vote, making voting more difficult, especially for those in low-income, rural communities. They've been able to push the voter registration deadline back and make it harder to vote absentee, all of which has a disproportionate impact on working families.

  Now Alabama has taken it a step further by closing 31 of the state's driver's license offices, leaving a large swath of the Black Belt without access to a DMV.

  Now the Department of Public Safety is claiming that these closures are purely based on the populations of these counties and the volume of business done at the DMV, but these are state services, not a for-profit company.

  The people who live in Hale County and Greene County and Perry County are just as important as the people who live in Jefferson, Mobile, Madison and Montgomery counties, and they deserve the same access to services, especially the services that guarantee the fundamental right to vote.

  All families look forward to celebrating as children achieve milestones when they get their driving permits and licenses, and all drivers must get their licenses renewed every four years.

  The DMV lines are already long, but now they will be backed up even farther in the counties that have DMV offices. Imagine the expensive inconvenience of taking a day off work, leaving the children with a caretaker and driving 50 miles across the state, only to arrive and find out that there are no more appointments available for the day.

  Today, the impact may only be an expired license and a potential ticket if you get cited. But the primary election is right around the corner, and there's at least one special election in North Alabama coming up on December 8. These closures have the potential for a tremendous impact on Alabama families and the democracy that we fought so hard for on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

  Running the state isn't about making business decisions and cutting services where there isn't a sufficient return on investment. It's about providing services adequately to preserve liberty and justice for all.

  About the author: Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

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