You remember in high school history, when the teacher brought up the old, bad days of Jim Crow? With tales of poll taxes and literacy tests to ensure that access to the ballot remained exclusive to white people?
We like to think that those days are gone, that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s remedied the worst abuses of systematic white racism. After all, the current occupant of the White House is a descendant of Kenyans. It has to be better.
Those days aren’t gone. They aren’t gone at all.
Most readers are aware that the Republican Party, given to using to a race-baiting rhetoric of resentment that alienates many of the demographic categories required to gain office in many jurisdictions, has adopted a bullshit agenda to fix the scarcely existent problem of “voter fraud” to justify restrictions on voting that—what do you know!—just happen to benefit an electorate that is whiter, older, more affluent, etc.—in other words, more Republican.
Since Republicans are having trouble winning elections, they are trying to reduce the voting population to the citizens that vote Republican. Nice trick, eh?
Cut to yesterday, when the website for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced that it would be closing 31 of its offices throughout the state, leaving 29 counties without a place where teenagers can take a driver’s test. (For convenience, I’ll using the term “DMV” to stand for such offices.)
As it happens, in 2011 the Alabama state legislature passed a voter ID law as described above, making it impossible to vote in Alabama without a government-issued photo ID. For most Americans, of course, the most common form of government ID—by far—is a driver’s license.
From here, Alabama journalist Kyle Whitmire picks up the thread:
Look at the list of counties now where you can’t get a driver’s license. There’s Choctaw, Sumter, Hale, Greene, Perry, Wilcox, Lowndes, Butler, Crenshaw, Macon, Bullock ...
If you had to memorize all the Alabama Counties in 9th grade, like I did—and even if you forgot most of them, like I have—you can probably guess where we’re going with this.
Depending on which counties you count as being in Alabama’s Black Belt, either twelve or fifteen Black Belt counties soon won’t have a place to get a driver’s license.
Now, I’m going to be honest with you. When I read Whitmire’s article yesterday, I instantly became skeptical. It did not look, to me, that the overlap between the Black Belt and the affected, soon-to-be-non-DMV counties was that strong. After all, if you eliminate services in 29 counties, some of the counties are going to be in the Black Belt, that’s only fair and not necessarily an indication of shenanigans. In fact, to my eye, the map of the affected counties looked like it might be a fair distribution in geographical terms to spread the inconvenience around the state equally.
But I may have underestimated how devious the planners were.
I decided to crunch the numbers, with the help of the 2010 census results for Alabama, which of course have demographic data on race associated with each county. You can find that data here.
What I found was extremely concerning, if you are troubled by the rise of a new Jim Crow.
Alabama has 67 counties. Of that set, 29 of them are going to find themselves without DMV services, while 38 counties will continue to have DMV offices. If you take the 29 counties that will not have DMV services, the average percentage of black population is 35.2%. For the other 38 counties, the ones that will still have local access to a DMV office, the average black population is considerably lower, at 22.2%.
I’m going to repeat that:
29 counties without DMV: 35.2% black
38 counties with DMV: 22.2% black
It gets worse.
Of the top 10 “blackest” counties in Alabama (Bullock, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery, Perry, Sumter, Wilcox), fully 8 of them will no longer have a DMV. If you restrict the set to the 6 blackest counties (Bullock, Greene, Lowndes, Macon, Sumter, Wilcox), none of them—repeat, none of them—are going to have a DMV office.
Meanwhile, of the top 10 whitest counties in Alabama (Blount, Cherokee, Cleburne, Cullman, DeKalb, Franklin, Jackson, Marion, Marshall, Winston), only 4 will be deprived of a DMV office. For the more restricted set of the 5 whitest counties (Blount, Cullman, DeKalb, Marshall, Winston), only 1 will have its DMV office taken away.
As I indicated, I didn’t want to take some journalist’s word that there were electoral shenanigans going on (although in principle I was perfectly willing to believe that such things do happen, of course). But a quick look at the numbers does suggest that some nefarious things are going on with the closing of these drivers’ license agencies.
If you are the powerful interests in a state, and you cannot win elections legitimately, then you will find illegitimate ways to win elections. Such shenanigans are legion, and almost always concentrated among conservative interests. My favorite for sheer dickishness are the myriads of leaflets that get distributed in impoverished and minority-heavy locations that helpfully remind citizens “to vote this Wednesday!”—i.e. one day AFTER Election Day, or the ones in the same neighborhoods that imply that outstanding parking tickets may cause one to be ineligible to vote—which of course is nonsense.
Remember, nowadays, whenever you hear of anyone complaining about voter fraud, they’re actually trying to deprive Democratic voters and minorities and lower-income people of their right to vote. And when you hear about the closing of driver’s license offices, it’s likely that there is some connection with VoterID laws that require a driver’s license to cast a ballot.
After the jump, helpful maps and demographic data so that you can crunch the same numbers yourself!