New Hampshire deserves a “bailout” from federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act, a three-judge panel in Washington D.C. has ruled. “Finally, we’re done with this,” Secretary of State William Gardner said Saturday night. The court approved the bailout on March 1, one day after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of that very section of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 of the VRA requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get all changes to their election laws “pre-cleared” by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court in D.C. New Hampshire found itself under that requirement in the 1960s, in part because the state had a literacy test on the books back then. Ten communities were singled out because of supposedly low voter registration and turnout.
Gardner said that never should have happened. An exhaustive investigation by a former assistant attorney general proved that six of the 10 communities did not even have a single minority resident back then. And Census records showed that actual voter registration and turnout were much higher than the 50 percent threshold that triggered the Section 5 restrictions.
“Forty-eight years ago, eight New Hampshire towns and two unincorporated places were incorrectly and unfairly subjected to the federal Voting Rights Act for discrimination,” Gardner said. “In the process of righting the wrongs, the action the federal government took here in New Hampshire wronged the rights of those places where there was no proven discrimination.”
In its March 1 ruling, the court noted that “a significant” percentage of the voting-age population in the covered towns participate in elections. And it pointed out residents here can register to vote on Election Day in all elections.