Voter suppression begins at home

Kyle Campbell

Last week, Governor Bentley announced the closure of 31 drivers license offices in many of the poorest – and blackest – counties in Alabama. Due to Alabama’s new voter ID laws, however, these closures affect many more residents of these counties than just 16-year-olds looking for new freedoms. The fact of the matter is that it is now harder for many African Americans to vote in a state with a rich history of electoral suppression than it was five years ago. Criticism of the decision began immediately, with everyone from columnist John Archibald to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton decrying the move as racist. Defenders of the decision have argued that it had nothing to do with race, and that budgetary restrictions necessitated the office closures. While state officials had no shortage of “colorblind” justifications for Jim Crow voting laws with the same effect, it is possible that the intention of this move was not to disenfranchise black voters, and that it was simply an unintended consequence. The offices that are closing serve a relatively small portion of the state’s population, and although I strongly doubt there was no racial bias in the decision, it can feasibly be argued that no deliberate voter suppression took place in Montgomery.

I wish I could say the same about Tuscaloosa.

On Monday, screenshots from an anonymous source allegedly showed a GroupMe of sisters of Alpha Gamma Delta discussing their sorority sister, Halle Lindsay, and the fact that they weren’t allowed to publicly support her for Homecoming Queen. “There will be so many consequences and they don’t tell you that until after you vote because everyone’s supposed to have a ‘choice,’” one of the messages read. They went on to discuss March’s SGA Presidential election, in which several Alpha Gams supported Elliot Spillers over Machine nominee Stevie Keller, and blamed that support for Mary Harmon Tyson losing the Machine nomination for Homecoming Queen to Phi Mu Katelyn Katsafanas. “If we keep going against the Machine we…will not have as many opportunities to be involved on campus,” the last message ended.

At one time in Alabama’s history, not long ago, being a member of the Machine was practically the only way to be elected to statewide, and sometimes local, public office. Machine members include former governors, senators, and many current state legislators, to say nothing of local politicians in Tuscaloosa. To people groomed for politics in a system with direct consequences for voting against the establishment – a system in which intimidation and threats are commonplace – an indirect consequence of African Americans unable to get voter ID’s doesn’t raise any alarms. In failing to address the Machine’s voter suppression tactics, in allowing this to continue unabated for a century, The University of Alabama administration has failed not only its students, but also every resident of Alabama affected by corruption in state government.

But the tides are turning in Tuscaloosa. Students at the University, more than half of whom are now from states other than Alabama, did their part to repair a broken system by electing the first non-Machine SGA President in nearly three decades, a decision I expect they will repeat this March. The Alabama Supreme Court, an institution not exactly known for being progressive, sided against the Machine in an electioneering case regarding a 2013 Tuscaloosa school board election. Never has the time been more suitable for the administration to act on a corrupt system than now, with a new University President and a resigning system Chancellor. The ball is now in President Bell’s court, and I hope that he at least acts as ethically on this issue as Roy Moore has.

Kyle Campbell is a junior majoring in political science. His column runs biweekly.