If he didn’t before this week, AL.com columnist John Archibald appreciates the power of Twitter. Two years ago, he wrote a column under the headline “Alabama sends message: We are too broke to care about right and wrong.” It pointed out that the state had closed driver’s-license bureaus in eight of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of nonwhite voters. Why did that matter? Because driver’s licenses or special photo IDs are required to vote.
“Alabama might as well just send an invitation to the Justice Department. Come on in guys. Come on down,” wrote Archibald in the piece, published Sept. 30, 2015. And there it hung out, pretty much, until some Twitter action on Monday.
Full disclosure: The Erik Wemple Blog also retweeted a link to the story, which we subsequently undid. The reason?
As The Post’s Christopher Ingraham explains, the citation of a 2015 story on Alabama voting and driver’s-license-office availability misses some critical history. In response to a backlash over the closings, then-Gov. Robert Bentley reversed the decision. From Ingraham:
According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, there are driver’s license offices in every Alabama county except for one: Lauderdale County, which is 87 percent white and is served primarily by an office immediately across the Tennessee River in Colbert County.
Many of the offices in smaller counties are open only during limited hours each month. In Cherokee County (pop. 25,897, 93 percent white), for instance, the office is open only the first Tuesday of each month. The office in Chambers County (pop. 34,018, 57 percent white) is open only on the second Thursday.
The column, according to Archibald, was zooming toward a healthy 100,000 page views, thanks to all the fresh attention: “It just blew up, and I think it was all driven by Twitter … and it’s completely archaic — not relevant anymore except in broader context of what we’ve done down here historically.” Currently, Alabamians are trekking to the polls en masse for a greatly anticipated special election for U.S. Senate between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones. “It’s embarrassing that it goes out right now,” says Archibald. “It seems to be being used in a way to distort the truth. It was bad enough then, but it’s just that’s just now what’s happening now on the ground.”
Politico Magazine editor Blake Hounshell, whose original tweet quoting Archibald’s column gained more than 8,000 retweets, was among those who dove in Tuesday morning to add more context:
@fivefifths is Atlantic writer Vann Newkirk, who covers voting access issues. The mere “impetus” to close DMVs, argues Newkirk, is relevant even after the move was rescinded, he argues in an email to the Erik Wemple Blog. “One mistake that I think even people deep in the weeds on this stuff make is thinking that only the laws in the books matter when it comes to turnout and ballot access,” he notes. “But, especially in a place like Alabama where voting is difficult and information is hard to come by, the baseline is a barrier to voting, one that even the rumor of targeting or discrimination will only raise higher. Chilling effects are real. And the DMV saga, like several other laws in Alabama deemed improper or unconstitutional, seems to me to be more evidence of the ongoing nature of suppression efforts rather than the sign that it’s all in the past.”
Says Hounshell: “I don’t think the state of Alabama has done a great job encouraging black voter participation in Alabama.”