Alabama seeks to avoid lawsuit over 'Motor Voter Act'

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama reached a settlement Friday with the Department of Justice and agreed to make changes to comply with the two-decade-old "motor voter" law designed to make it easier for people to register to vote.

The settlement agreement comes after the Justice Department said in September that it was planning to sue Alabama after an investigation found that Alabama was not abiding by the requirements of the 1993 law.

"Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

"We commend the state of Alabama for working quickly and cooperatively with the department to ensure that eligible Alabama citizens can register to vote and update their registration information through motor vehicle agencies, with the convenience they deserve and the ease of access the law requires."

A section of National Voter Registration Act of 1993, commonly called the "motor voter" act, requires that citizens be offered the opportunity to register to vote during license transactions. Alabama agreed to make changes so that people can register to vote when they obtain or renew a license, either in person or online, and to make sure license address changes are used to update registration files.

The state will first implement a paper system. Clerks will ask people during transactions if they wish to register to vote and provide the necessary forms if they do. The state will deliver the completed forms every week to the registrars. Within seven months, the state will establish an electronic voter registration system to integrate with license transactions.

To make up for past noncompliance, the state of Alabama also agreed to mail voter registration applications, by July 31, to people who have a state driver's licenses or state-issued identification cards who are eligible, but not registered, to vote.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed the memorandum of agreement and said he was glad that state and federal officials were able to work together and avoid a lawsuit.

"We are going to make the proper adjustments on our driver's licenses to make sure people are registered to vote. A lot of states, it was an oversight on their part, but we want to make sure we obey the law and do it correctly and that is what we are doing," Bentley said.

Department of Justice officials declined to say what triggered the investigation in Alabama.

"This is a great day for Alabama. Voting is the foundation of our democracy and today it is easier for citizens in Alabama to vote," said U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance of the Northern District of Alabama.

The memorandum of understanding between state and federal officials requires the state to submit compliance reports.

Alabama in recent weeks has seen controversy over the closure of rural driver's license offices where licenses had issued one day per week. Following criticisms, the state agreed to reopen the offices one day per month.