• 81°

NAACP, Secretary of State to provide free photo IDs Friday

The Pike County NAACP and Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill are working together on an event that will help people obtain the photo IDs they need in order to vote.

Alabama citizens will be provided forms to register and the opportunity to update voter information from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Friday at J. Michelle’s Special Events at 11440 U.S. Highway 231 in Troy. Potential voters must bring identification.

“The election is on March 3, 2020, but we want to be proactive,” Dianna Bascomb, president of the Pike County NAACP, told commissioners at the Monday, March 25 meeting. “I’d like for us to represent the unity of the local NAACP branch and the elected officials, but first as the constituents and citizens of Pike County.”

“We think it’s very important that each and every U.S. citizen that is an Alabama resident has a voter ID,” Merrill said. “So we are going to do whatever it takes to make it happen.”

Merrill said efforts to gain voter registration and participation were reflected by the 1,029,399 new Alabama voters registered since January 2016, ushering in a record total now of 3,070,811 registered voters.

“Those numbers have led the nation in the last four years, two months and 13 days,” Merrill said.

Several years ago, Alabama enacted strict voter regulations requiring each voter to present a photo ID, which is supposed to prevent voter impersonation and secure voter integrity.

If a photo ID is not available, two election officials can verify a voter’s identity or put in a provisional ballot, requiring voters to later provide their IDs.

Although proponents said the law was meant to bring reassurance and cut down on voter fraud, it was met with opposition.

In December 2015, Greater Birmingham Ministries and the NAACP filed a lawsuit to overturn the law, saying it was discriminatory. Both groups said the strict regulations hurt African-Americans and Latinos.

Steven Taylor, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University and a political scientist, said there is sense to requiring people to demonstrate that they are legal voters, but national statistics show that such laws are working against the economically and racially under-served.

“You can clearly see in the data that it is African-Americans, poor people, elderly people and some combination thereof who tend to be less likely to have access,” Taylor said. “It’s difficult to get their IDs.”

The NAACP and GBM said cases of voter fraud were rare and did not warrant a new law.

“The idea of the law is that we don’t want people voting who aren’t supposed to, and that is a legitimate issue,” Taylor said. “However, what we find is that in-person voter fraud is quite rare and unusual.”

A study by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt found that only 35 cases of voter fraud in the United States were credible between 2000 and 2014, a little more than two cases per year.

“The facts are that we have broken every record in the history of the state for voter registration and voter participation,” Merrill said. “You can’t say anything except ‘good job.’”

Any event that brings awareness to voting laws and rights is a benefit, Taylor said, but extra security should not come at the cost of liberty.

“If we’re going to take seriously the idea as a nation that we all have a say, we need to make sure our choices help people exercise their fundamental rights, not restrict them,” he said.

Merrill said his office will send someone to provide free photo IDs to people who can’t leave their homes. He said anyone who needs information can call his office at 334-242-7200 or his cellphone: 334-328-2787.

The Pike County NAACP is also offering free rides to the event for people who may not have access to transportation. To get a ride, call 334-282-5049.

For information about Friday’s event, go to www.pikenaacp5051.org.

Maya Martin, a Troy University journalism major from Bessemer, wrote this story as part of a project partly funded by the Alabama Press Association Journalism Foundation.