WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Alabama has agreed to change its voter registration system after a federal investigation found it failed to comply with U.S. laws requiring state motor vehicle agencies to register eligible voters, the U.S. Justice Department said on Friday.
The department's civil rights division "found widespread noncompliance" with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to provide voter registration opportunities when people get a driver's license or similar document, the department said in a statement.
Alabama was "working quickly and cooperatively" to resolve the issue, Vanita Gupta, head of the department's civil rights division, said in a press release.
The federal investigation found that applications for Alabama driver’s licenses were not being applied to voter registration for federal elections, as required by U.S. law.
Change of address notifications to the motor vehicles authorities also were not being applied to voter registration data, the department said.
"Under the terms of the settlement, Alabama will fully integrate a voter registration opportunity into all applications for driver’s licenses and other identification documents," the department said.
Change of address information submitted for driver’s license purposes will also be used to update voters’ addresses, it added.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a Republican, welcomed the agreement in a statement, saying it avoided spending time and money on litigation while allowing state resources to instead be directed to making it easier for Alabama citizens to register to vote.
He said the state will adjust its electronic voter registration system to be able to electronically receive the voter registration data from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which handles the electronic driver’s license system.
Under the agreement, Alabama will also contact all eligible voters who may have missed the opportunity to register to vote as a result of the problems, the Justice Department said.
Alabama also stoked controversy with the planned closure of 31 mostly part-time driver's license offices in rural areas due to budget cuts. Critics, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, have accused the state of trying to make it more difficult to register voters, particularly black and poor voters.
The state last month announced the offices would remain open on a limited basis.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Adams; Editing by Lisa Lambert and Paul Simao)