The issue with voter suppression in Alabama is just the endgame for GOP rule in Southern states. The real goal is to crush the poor and simply get rid of them, and Alabama is well on its way to doing just that after decades of Republican rule.
What hurts in rural areas generally is all the more painful in the Black Belt, a broad band across southern Alabama named for its rich soil. The Black Belt counties, nearly all of them majority African-American, are scattered with dying towns, few job opportunities and bad health.
Still, they were again hit by the funding cuts: three of the five state parks slated to close are here.
Officials with the Bentley administration, who had warned of potentially deeper cuts, blame the legislature for not finding more revenue. But in Alabama, the poor tend to get squeezed when it comes to cutting services and raising revenue alike.
Corporate tax breaks are generous and the timber and farming interests that own so much Black Belt land enjoy substantial property tax discounts. At the same time, households earning far below the poverty level are required to pay income tax, while the local and state sales tax burden is among the highest in the United States, and Alabama, unlike nearly every other state, imposes its full sales tax on groceries. With such volatile funding on the state level and so little tax revenue locally, Black Belt schools are chronically underfunded.
“Whenever there are funding cuts it may give a cold to most of the schools, but it gives us pneumonia,” said Daniel Boyd, the superintendent of Lowndes County’s public school system, which has been short of textbooks since 2008.
And so the schools struggle, people move out, the tax base dwindles and more services are cut. This time around, it is the driver’s licenses.
“It’s going to be a problem,” said Carolyn Shields, who was discussing the cutbacks with her sister Caritha in front of Caritha’s mobile home in the tiny community of Geiger.
With people from several counties now having to go to Tuscaloosa, the lines will likely be longer, they said, meaning a whole day off work — maybe two, if the wait is especially long. More young people will probably just drive without licenses, as plenty around here already do, they said.
The sisters said they were not sure about the effect one way or another on voting. For them, the main consideration was whether places like this could remain at all.
“Before long,” Ms. Shields said, “there won’t be nothing here.”
The prospect of cutting government to the bone and then amputating it is nothing new, certainly. But it's the poor, the black, the brown, that suffer the most, suffer first, and suffer the longest. And Republicans don't care. Take everything from them including the right to vote and you win. Wall the place off and let the losers perish.
And the game continues like it has for centuries.