MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge has tossed out a lawsuit challenging Alabama's voter ID law that requires people to show government-issued photo identification at the polls.
The Alabama lawsuit was one of the latest 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 on Wednesday ruled in favor of the state, saying the provision does not discriminate against minorities and is not an undue infringement on the right to vote since the state makes free IDs available for voting purposes.
Since 2014, Alabama has required voters to show government-issued photo identification when they vote. 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 the required photo ID."
Coogler ruled in favor of the state, noting that the state makes free IDs available to people who lack them.
"In Alabama, the law has no discriminatory impact because it does not prevent anyone from voting, not when free IDs are issued in every county, or at home, under conditions that any registered voter can meet," Coogler wrote.
Sherrilyn Ifill is president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Funds, which represented plaintiffs in the case. She said the organization is considering its next steps.
"We are deeply disappointed by the judge's ruling dismissing our case before trial. Over the course of two years, we have developed a sound case demonstrating that Alabama's voter ID law is racially discriminatory," Ifill said in a statement.
State lawmakers approved the photo ID law in 2011 not long after the GOP took control of the legislature. They argued the measure was needed to combat potential voter fraud.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall praised the decision, saying the state's voter ID law was one of the "broadest in the nation" because of the mechanisms for obtaining a free ID.
"Today's decision to dismiss the lawsuit is without a doubt the right decision," Marshall said in a statement.
Coogler said the state has issued 13,442 free voter photo IDs, including some through a mobile unit that travels to different locations. He noted the case of Elizabeth Ware, a 60-year-old African-American woman in Mobile County, whose state ID was stolen in 2014. She tried to get a free voter ID but was turned away by workers saying she was not eligible to obtain one since she previously had a state ID. After her deposition in the lawsuit, Secretary of State John Merrill sent a mobile unit to her home in south Alabama to make the photo ID.
Texas officials last month asked a federal appellate court to let a re-worked version of that state's voter ID law proceed, after years of court fights, because it allows people without acceptable photo ID to vote by signing an affidavit stating they cannot reasonably obtain one.