Bentley: Criticism over office closings is ‘ill-informed’

Published 10:50 pm Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bentley, in a letter to U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, said the state law enforcement agency had to adjust resources because of budget cuts. The governor said the closures will not impact access to the voting box because county boards of registrars can still make free IDs for voting purposes in every county.

“After ensuring all counties provided government-issued identification at no expense to the voter, we allocated our resources to the most prudent services. The resources used to provide services at the satellite locations were needed elsewhere to ensure ALEA can continue to fulfill its core functions,” Bentley wrote.

Sewell has called the closures appalling in a state that requires a state-issued photo identification to vote.

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The congresswoman asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.

Bentley told Sewell that he thought her comments were, “impulsive, ill-informed and based on irresponsible media reports concerning the decisions that were made to allocate limited resources of state government.”

State agencies last week announced the closure of state parks, license offices and National Guard Armories because of funding reductions in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said it would no longer send driving test examiners to 31 satellite offices.

The examiners gave driving tests in the county-owned offices anywhere from one to three days a week.

The change only impacts the issuance of new licenses and permits. County workers handle renewals.

Statistics from ALEA showed the offices issued anywhere from a few dozen to a few 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.

The state’s decision to withdraw the examiners brought a backlash, particularly from rural and minority lawmakers who said the closures will be an added burden for the state’s poor and people with limited transportation.

“These closures will potentially disenfranchise Alabama’s poor, disabled and black communities. To restrict the ability of any citizen to vote is an assault on the rights of all Americans to equally participate in the electoral process,” Sewell wrote in the letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

In 2014, Alabama began requiring voters to present a state-issued photo identification to vote.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson will appear at news conferences Wednesday with members of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus.