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Alabama budget cuts: A way to reduce black voter turnout?

Alabama closed 31 rural drivers' license offices. Hillary Clinton says the move is a throwback to "Jim Crow" laws. Or is it a better use of state money?

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    A "Closed, Keep Out" sign shows parts of the park closed off in Paul M. Grist State Park, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, in Selma, Ala. Alabama agencies on Wednesday announced the closure of smaller state parks, National Guard armories and nearly half of drivers' license offices to deal with budget cuts in the coming fiscal year. The park will close on Oct. 15, 2015.
    (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell said Friday that she plans to ask the Department of Justice to investigate Alabama's closure of 31 rural drivers' license offices.

Sewell said the closings disproportionately affect the state's poor, rural and African-American residents, and that she's particularly appalled it is happening in a state that requires photo IDs to vote.

"The voices of our most vulnerable citizens have been further silenced by the decision to close 31 driver's license offices across Alabama," Sewell said.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also weighed in on the issue, calling the move "a blast from the Jim Crow past."

"Just a few years ago, Alabama passed a law requiring citizens to have a photo ID to vote. Now they're shutting down places where people get those photo IDs. This is only going to make it harder for people to vote," Clinton said in a statement.

Sewell said she is asking U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate the closures as possible civil-rights or voting-rights violations.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency this week pulled examiners from the part-time satellite offices to save travel costs in the face of budget cuts. The change means that residents in 28 counties will have to travel outside the county to obtain a license or learner's permit for the first time. Sewell said transportation is already a significant problem for people in the state's high-poverty Black Belt region that she represents.

She said what the state is doing is adding an additional "barrier for certain segments" to get a license.

ALEA said the satellite offices, which were staffed with an examiner part-time, were picked because of low utilization.

Statistics from ALEA showed the offices issued anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred licenses and permits in 2014.

The Greenville location issued 261 permits and 187 licenses and gave 620 exams in 2014. The Camden location issued 145 permits and 42 licenses and gave 403 exams. The Chatom location issued 220 permits and 99 licenses and gave 496 exams.

License renewals can still be done in all counties offices, according to ALEA. They can also be done online.

Sonny Brasfield, executive director, Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said county offices perform license renewals, while state workers give the exams and issue new licenses and permits.

Some state officials have disputed assertions that the closures will be a voting barrier. Secretary of State John Merrill said people can obtain a voter ID card at county registrars.

"I understand the concern in regards to voting and access to proper ID to vote," Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier said Thursday night. "I completely understand the concern in the Black Belt area."

AL.com reports that Collier expects no pushback from the Justice Department, because free photo voter ID cards are available from all county Board of Registrars offices. He said ALEA has also discussed its plan with Alabama's chief election official, Secretary of State John Merrill, and state Attorney General Luther Strange's office.

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