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Alabama voter ID law upheld by 11th Circuit

ATLANTA (AP) — Federal appeals judges upheld a lower court Tuesday and rejected claims that an Alabama law which requires voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls is racially discriminatory.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals, which upheld a 2018 ruling that dismissed a lawsuit filed by the NAACP and others, was a victory for Republicans who contend the law is needed to prevent voter fraud.

Rebuffing opponents who argued the law violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, the court ruled that “no reasonable factfinder could find that Alabama’s voter ID law is unconstitutionally discriminatory” based on the evidence.

But Judge Darrin P. Gayles, a district judge who heard the case with the circuit judges, dissented in an opinion that noted Alabama’s “deep and troubled history of racial discrimination” and voter suppression. While some absentee fraud occurs, Gayle wrote, in-person voting fraud is “virtually non-existent.”

“Opponents have repeatedly argued that Alabama’s voter ID law’s requirement that a voter must provide a photo ID is overly burdensome. As I have previously stated, Alabama’s voter identification law, by both design and practice, is easily satisfied, and it contains procedures to allow anyone who does not have a photo ID to obtain one. The appeals court in its opinion agreed,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement Tuesday.

Secretary of State John H. Merrill said the ruling affirmed that the state’s voter ID law is valid.

“Noting the various forms of valid photo ID accepted by the State of Alabama to vote and how simple and free it is to acquire a photo ID, it is apparent from today’s ruling that the state’s photo ID law is fair and non-burdensome to voters,” Merrill said.

He also said his office has “worked to see that every eligible resident of our state, who is interested, is registered to vote and has a photo ID.”

The Alabama lawsuit was among the legal battles in the U.S. between voting rights advocates, who say the measures are aimed at suppressing voter turnout, and conservative states that argue the protections are needed to ensure honest elections.

U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler had ruled in favor of the state in 2018, saying the provision does not discriminate against minorities and was not an undue infringement on the right to vote since the state made free identification cards available for voting purposes.

Alabama has required voters to show government ID when they vote since 2014. State lawmakers approved the photo ID law in 2011 after the GOP took control of the Legislature. They argued the measure was needed to combat potential voter fraud.

The Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries and minority voters had sued over the law in 2015, calling it discriminatory and an infringement on voting rights. They contended Alabama politicians knew when they enacted it that black and Latino voters disproportionately lack photo ID.

In his dissent, Gayles cited remarks by a one-time white Republican lawmaker who said the lack of a photo ID law was “very beneficial to the Black power structure and the rest of the Democrats.”

The majority opinion, written by Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch on behalf of herself and Circuit Judge Ed Carnes, noted the steps the state has taken to make identification cards available to voters, including mobile units.

Critics of the law did not prove it violates equal protection standards, she wrote, and the state was able to show non-discriminatory reasons for requiring voters to show identification.

While noting complaints about the state’s record of racism against Blacks, Branch wrote that “it cannot be that Alabama’s history bans its legislature from ever enacting otherwise constitutional laws about voting.”

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