Sherrilyn Ifill: 'Black Voters In Alabama Mattered'

Dec 28, 2017
Originally published on December 28, 2017 7:15 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Roy Moore is not going away quietly. The Republican candidate lost a special election to fill a vacant Senate seat in Alabama, but he's filed a lawsuit. He says there were voting irregularities. Moore also continues to deny allegations that he had sexual contact with underage girls. He says now he's taken a polygraph test that proves it.

The Alabama Secretary of State is scheduled to certify that Democrat Doug Jones won the election. And much of Jones' support has been attributed to high turnout among African-American voters. Before Moore filed his lawsuit, I spoke to Sherrilyn Ifill. She's president of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund. And she said that some black voters faced obstacles at the Alabama polls.

SHERRILYN IFILL: Some voters showed up at the polls and discovered that they were on an inactive list. These were voters who had voted in the 2016 presidential election. And yet somehow they were listed as inactive and had to go back and forth with poll workers about whether, in fact, they could cast a true ballot and not a provisional ballot. There were other instances in which there was only one machine for voters to vote on, and there were lines - we saw this in Mobile; we saw this in Selma - outside the door. And voters had to leave to go to work.

In other instances, voters came to the poll and were asked inappropriate questions by poll workers. They were asked about the county of their birth to prove their ID. This is an inappropriate question not required under Alabama law. Overlaying all of that is Alabama's voter ID law, a law that we are challenging - we go to trial in February - that we've estimated has disenfranchised over 100,000 eligible voters in Alabama who don't have the requisite photo ID.

KING: All right, we have to note here that we did get in touch with John Merrill. He's Alabama's Secretary of State. He did deny to us that there were any attempts at voter suppression. Let's get out of Alabama for a second. Where else in the country are you worried about potential voter suppression?

IFILL: You may know that Texas passed the most restrictive voter ID law in the country. This is the voter ID law that initially kept African-American university students in Texas from using their university ID to vote, something that had been permitted for decades in Texas prior to 2014. So they were prohibited now from using that form of ID to vote, but you could use your concealed gun-carry permit.

And we saw these voter ID laws spring up around the country. They've been subject to litigation in Kansas and Wisconsin and many other states. So we have a lot of work to do to ensure that the right to vote is guaranteed for every citizen.

KING: The black vote in Alabama was big, and it was decisive. Are you worried at all that people are going to look at that big decisive vote and say, look, the obstacles that you're talking about are obviously not really standing in the way of anyone's vote, or not on a large scale?

IFILL: Let's be clear. No obstacle should be put in the way of an eligible voter to be able to participate fully in the political process. That's what's guaranteed by the Constitution and by the Voting Rights Act. So the idea that people want to look away because of the high turnout or the relatively high turnout in this race is really quite astonishing.

We use as the litmus test for judging whether there's a voter suppression problem these extremely high-profile races in which a lot of money pours in from the political parties to get out the vote. We should remember that Roy Moore was an elected district attorney and chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Weren't those elections important? It's not just about congressional races, Senate races and presidential races. It's about all the other little local races that are vitally important.

KING: Sherrilyn Ifill is president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Sherrilyn, thank you so much for joining us.

IFILL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.