US elections 2016: Anger over new voter ID laws

People casting ballots are required to produce a government-issued photo ID, a move some say targets poor black voters.

Camden, Alabama – In many ways, Alabama is the cradle of the voting rights movement, a place where Wilcox County circuit clerk Ralph Ervin says “stumbling blocks” have been turned into “stepping stones”.

But on Super Tuesday civil rights activists say those stumbling blocks are preventing black voters from going to the polls.

The issue in this state, where a quarter of the population are African American, is voter ID laws.

In 2014, the state changed the law and now requires all voters to produce government-issued photo IDs.

At first glance that does not seem like an unreasonable request and those who back the law say it prevents voter fraud.

But in sparsely populated poor communities such as Wilcox County, public transport is virtually non-existent. Compounding the problem is the partial closure of more than 30 driver’s licence offices, many in predominantly black counties.

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Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton called the law “a blast from the Jim Crow past” – and this is an issue Ervin has fought long and hard against.

‘”We serve the same God as everybody else does,” Ervin said, slamming his fist into his hand.

“This is just as much our country and our county as it is anybody else’s,” he added.


State officials say any claims that they are trying to suppress the African-American vote are unfounded.

Officials say mobile units will scour the poorer communities to ensure that those who do not have the means to travel to get a government-issued ID are taken care of – but civil rights activists continue to fight for change.

According to statistics, there are a quarter of a million potential voters here who do not have approved government ID, and most of those voters are poor and black.

It is an issue on the mind of Felicia Pettway, a candidate for Wilcox County district judge.

“I think this is just the epitome of voter oppression,” she said as she handed out fliers in the car park of the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket.

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Before the ruling came into force, voters without ID could cast their ballot as long as two people in the polling station could vouch for them.

Pettway says in a place like Wilcox County that was never an issue.

“I’m trying to figure out the need for voter ID. I just don’t see that need being a necessity for you to vote.”

It is unlikely that the ruling will change in the immediate future but it is not just restricted to this state.

Texas, Tennessee and Georgia, among others, have similar strict voter ID laws and campaigners say those laws all target the same demographic, a trend civil rights campaigners say set back decades of hard-won rights.

Source: Al Jazeera