DMV Closures in Alabama
Alabama again made national news this past month and again not for something to be proud of – the closure of 31 DMV offices around the state. Why did they do this? Because the state was unable to pass a balanced budget and instead of raising taxes or adjusting the tax code, further cuts were made to an already anemic budget.
Of the DMV offices that closed, most were in rural areas; this disproportionately affects people the poor, elderly and persons of color. It is estimated that some would now have to drive over one hundred miles to be able to go to an office.
Many people have tied the closing of the DMV offices to the loss of effectiveness of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; a key part which was struck down in the 2011 lawsuit brought forth by Shelby County. The section specifically required that any attempt by the state to alter its status quo which could affect voting in Alabama must have pre-clearance by the Justice Department. While anyone can still register to vote and obtain a voter ID at their local Board of Registrar’s Office for free, the state has simply made it harder to function and to live.
Many people think of a photo ID law as a drivers’ license and fail to connect that they need only go to the Board of Registrar. While the state assures us that we can renew our licenses online now, this still means that an estimated 40,000 people a year will need to go to only four offices in the entire state to receive new drivers licenses and examinations. This applies to new residents, license renewals following suspensions and individuals needing to receive a license for the first time. For other individuals it is possible to renew online or create digital licenses on your cell phone.
While it is true, these are improvements (the ability to renew online); it implies access to broadband internet, money for a smart phone and an ability to pay for it. Yet there is extreme poverty in much of the state, for instance Lowndes County has a poverty rate of 37%. Furthermore race ties directly with the poverty rate: “Broken down by race, 30.6 percent of blacks are in poverty, 31.2 percent of Hispanics and 12.4 percent of whites” according to al.com There is also a link to education – the less education a person has, the more likely they are living in a cycle of poverty.
While governor Bently denies that this decision to close the DMV was racially motivated, the result is still the same – people who are poor, persons of color, the disabled and the elderly are more directly impacted by this decision. These are the people who need more services and who, as a result of the systemic structure of the state live in areas with fewer well-constructed roads, safe bridges, access to broadband internet and an ability to speak and have a voice in the election process. The state must ensure the safety, well-being and education of its citizens, something I believe Alabama is failing at. How could Alabama improve?
- Deal with an unfair tax system which: “The lowest-paid fifth of Alabamians pay 10 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes, while the top 1 percent pay just 3.8 percent.” Stop taxing groceries and examine why 1963 was the last time the state dealt with the sales tax in a meaningful way.
- Stop earmarks in the Alabama state budget to allow legislators more flexibility in how money is spent.
- Create a new constitution for the state of Alabama that is more favorable to the needs of the citizens of the state instead of one written in 1901 in an era of white supremacy.
- Stop talking about same-sex marriage and abortion and focus on what matter most to the citizens of the state – state sponsored services including expansion of Medicaid so that 139,000 uninsured people have access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act and better infrastructure like safe bridges and roads and supply public transportation so people can go to jobs and medical appointments. Improve schools and educational resources!
If we work together we can build a better future for the entire state. The closure of the DMV offices are simply another in a long chain of limiting services to those who need it most. The Bible teaches us that “…no inheritance of the children of Israel shall remove from tribe to tribe; for the children of Israel shall cleave everyone to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.” (Numbers 36:7) We are not supposed to have resources pooled so that one tribe has all of the land, instead everyone is supposed to benefit economically. Furthermore, we are taught to take a census at the beginning of the book of Numbers to emphasize that everyone counts. We have forgotten that in this state, the buckle of the Bible Belt. Our legislators are focused on themselves and not leading the state for the betterment of its citizens specifically the poor. The Bible teaches us not to neglect the poor, the widowed or the orphan, which is a euphemism for the people who fall in the margins. We are only as strong as those who are in the margins, I pray that we are able to see them and find a solution to solve this human made problem of leaving them in the dust.