Voting Blogs: What Did VRA Preclearance Actually Do?: The Gap Between Perception and Reality | Election Law Blog

A widespread perception exists that, in the years before the Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Section 5 preclearance regime was a powerful tool in protecting access to the ballot box for minority voters.  Indeed, Section 5 is widely thought to have been overwhelmingly about protecting access in the covered areas:  that is part of it symbolic meaning.  On this view, Section 5 was a bulwark against laws like the one just signed by North Carolina’s governor – which makes voting more difficult for eligible voters by cutting the early voting period, eliminating same-day registration, and other measures. But the reality is that Section 5 was rarely used in this way, at least in its last three decades.  Section 5 did not, primarily, function to protect access to the ballot box.  Instead, the overwhelming uses of Section 5 were to ensure more majority-majority election districts or to stop at-large election systems and other practices believed to weaken minority voting strength.  Some of these uses, especially the compelled creation of majority-minority election districts, are more controversial (even among conventional “liberals”) than are robust protections for access to the ballot box.  Yet in practice, Section 5 was used primarily for redistricting and other matters of vote dilution rather than protecting the right of eligible citizens to cast a vote.

Editorials: Vote suppression is the real voting fraud in South Carolina | Brett Bursey/The State

When I saw Rep. Alan Clemmons’ guest column, “Voting problems continue to haunt us” (July 21), I was hoping he’d explain his part in peddling the myth of dead people voting in South Carolina, and apologize to the people he misled. He did neither. Instead, he again claimed an “undeniable presence of election fraud in South Carolina,” and took a cheap shot at the S.C. Progressive Network to make his point. He referenced an instance years ago when bogus forms were turned in by someone the network hired to do voter registration in Florence County. I caught the fraud myself and called SLED and the County Election Board the day the forms were submitted. No fraudulent votes were cast. I testified against the perpetrator, and he went to jail. The system worked.

National: Congress Shows No Urgency on Voting Rights Act | Alaska Public Media

In June, the United States Supreme Court struck down a key formula of the Voting Rights Act. Section IV of the 1965 law determined which states needed to get federal approval before changing any voting laws. Alaska was one of nine states subject to that rule known as preclearance. Immediately following the ruling, a frustrated Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the decision. “Existing statutes cannot totally fill the void left by today’s Supreme Court ruling,” Holder said. “And I am hopeful new protections can and will pass in this session of Congress.” Congressional action is highly unlikely anytime soon. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion that voter discrimination still exists. The court did not invalidate the entire act, just the formula determining which states need federal scrutiny. Those states include Alaska, and there have always been those in the states who have thought that was unfair, including Governor Sean Parnell, who ordered the state to join the lawsuit against it.

National: Historic Civil Rights Act of 1965 Celebrates a Bittersweet Birthday | BET

It was 48 years ago today when the nation saw a landmark piece of civil rights legislation go into effect with the enacting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Enacted in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, it was an act that sought to address and curtail discrimination that had existed in the United States, particularly in many of the states in the South, including many provisions to make voting more accessible for African-American citizens. The Voting Rights Act became most notable for establishing federal oversight of elections administration. It carried a key provision that prohibited various states from enacting any changes in voting laws without first obtaining approval from the Department of Justice, a process known as pre-clearance. It is that pre-clearance provision, known as Section 5 of the Act, that has long been the most controversial component of the act. The opposition to the measure grew steadily over the years, namely from Republican members of Congress who complained that it carried an unfair burden on election laws in their areas.

North Carolina: Voting Laws Could Hinge On Evidence Of Racism | Huffington Post

In recent weeks, civil-rights advocates and legal experts in North Carolina have contemplated a provocative question: Are the state’s Republican lawmakers racist? The answer could determine the future of North Carolina’s voting laws. If a court finds that the state’s lawmakers have engaged in a deliberate attempt to discriminate against minority voters, the federal government could require the state to clear all future election policies with the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court. That would renew the federal oversight that ended with the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act. In June, a 5-4 United States Supreme Court majority struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision that required jurisdictions with extensive histories of discriminating against minorities — including eight states in the South and parts of other states — to get “preclearance” from the DOJ before making changes to their voting policies.

National: How far will the Justice Department go over voting rights? | Stateline

The glee in Republican-controlled states after the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act ruling in June may give way to a different feeling for state officials: The crushing weight of a full legal offensive from the U.S. Justice Department. Attorney General Eric Holder is moving aggressively to renew federal control over Texas elections, even without the crucial legal lever the court eliminated. And Texas might be just the beginning. The court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required places with a history of discrimination to get any elections changes — everything from the location of polling places to voter ID laws — preapproved by a federal court or the Justice Department. All or parts of 16 states, mainly in the South, were bound by the so-called “preclearance” requirement.

Editorials: The voting rights disaster | Los Angeles Times

It has been less than six weeks since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark law that for five decades has protected this country’s most basic democratic right. But it is already clear that the decision was a disaster. Freed of the obligation to seek federal approval before making changes in their election practices, some states have moved to introduce or restore policies that will make it harder for racial minorities to vote or will dilute their political influence. Meanwhile, as any student of contemporary politics could have predicted, a divided Congress shows no sign of moving quickly to adopt a new formula for federal “pre-clearance” of state election changes that would meet the Supreme Court’s requirements. Although the Voting Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination in voting nationwide, only some states, mostly in the South, had been required to obtain advance approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal judge before they changed their election practices. The problem with that, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, was that the formula for deciding which states had to “pre-clear” changes was rooted in data from the 1960s and ’70s and didn’t reflect “current conditions,” notably dramatic increases in minority turnout in Southern states.

Editorials: Quick assault on voting rights in GOP-controlled states reveals Supreme Court’s mistake | Lexington Herald-Leader

In her dissent to last month’s wrongheaded Supreme Court decision striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote that ending the preclearance requirement for districts with a history of discrimination was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Just one month later, Republican lawmakers are flooding the country with voter suppression laws masquerading as voter ID laws and redistricting plans. Texas gleefully announced within two hours of the decision its plan to institute a redistricting map and strict voter ID laws that had been challenged by the Department of Justice as discriminatory. Attorney General Eric Holder is commendably trying to battle Texas’ discriminatory laws under a different section of the Voting Rights Act, but draconian voter ID laws are rapidly spreading through Republican-controlled states. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says he will sign a nakedly partisan voter suppression bill, though he admits that he has not read it. Perhaps he should.

Editorials: Holder’s Texas-Sized Gambit after Voting Act Loss | Rick Hasen/National Law Journal

The U.S. Department of Justice announced on July 25 that it would seek renewed federal oversight of some jurisdictions previously subject to DOJ “preclearance” because of their history of racial discrimination in voting. The DOJ’s move, which will begin with Texas, is made under the Voting Rights Act’s little-used “bail in” provision—and it is risky, both politically and legally. But given the few alternatives to protect minority voters, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder probably figures the risks are worth taking. In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder stripped the U.S. Department of Justice of a key tool used to protect minority voters. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required states and localities with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get approval or preclearance from the DOJ or a three-judge court in Washington D.C. before making any changes in their voting laws. The Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the formula in Section 4 used to define jurisdictions subject to preclearance, rendering Section 5 mostly inoperable.

Texas: White House denies Rick Perry’s “end-run” allegation on Voting Rights | Dallas Morning News

The White House pushed back this afternoon against allegations from Texas Republicans that the Justice Department is overreaching its authority by trying to reimpose preemptive U.S. oversight of Texas elections. Not so, Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One to Florida. Earnest noted that Texas political maps for years “have attracted quite a bit of controversy… I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody that’s been following this that that’s attracted the attention of the Department of Justice.” Attorney General Eric Holder’s announced this morning that he would seek a court order forcing Texas to submit any and all election changes for federal review. The Supreme Court lifted that burden last month when it struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act.

National: Eric Holder Takes the Fight for Voting Rights to Texas |

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder strode onto the stage before the National Urban League on Thursday and announced his intention to take the fight for voting rights — both literally and figuratively — to Texas. The subsequent Republican sputterings and wistful Democratic musings fed the faithful in both parties. Republican leaders, firmly ensconced in power, scolded an intrusive federal government to the delight of the party’s conservative base, while Democrats saw Holder as a defender of the emerging Hispanic vote that would carry the party back to the promised land. But the announcement also gave sustenance to an army of lawyers engaged in what has become a never-ending legal battle over election laws and political map-making. Holder’s announcement was prompted by last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, which effectively removed a vital provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). The provision had required 16 jurisdictions, including several former Confederate states like Texas, to seek pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) before making changes to election laws and redistricting maps. The attorney general called the court’s reasoning in the Shelby County v. Holder case “flawed”, and with little chance that a divided Congress would address the issue, the administration pledged to seek other remedies. Holder announced he would revive legal battles made moot by the high court decision by turning to other provisions in the VRA that allow plaintiffs to present specific evidence of minority disenfranchisement to the courts as a step to pre-clearance.

Arizona: GOP: Voting Rights Act ruling changes redistricting lines | AZ Daily Sun

Last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling voiding a key section of the Voting Rights Act requires the lines for the state’s 30 legislative districts to be redrawn before the 2014 election, an attorney for Republican interests is contending. In legal papers filed in federal court late Friday, attorney David Cantelme said the Independent Redistricting Commission’s own data shows that it overpopulated some of the districts and underpopulated others. The result, Cantelme said, was to politically disadvantage Republican candidates to the benefit of Democrats. Cantelme also pointed out to the three-judge panel hearing his legal challenge that the commission’s key legal argument for why it made those decisions was that it needed comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. More to the point, commissioners wanted to ensure that the map it drew was “precleared” by the U.S. Department of Justice as not diluting the voting strength of minorities. But the high court last month overturned a provision of that law that created a formula to identify which states and counties have a history of discrimination and therefore must submit any changes in voting laws to be precleared. That list included nine states, including Arizona, and parts of several others.

National: Voting Rights Act Ruling Forces Justice Department Reassignments | Huffington Post

In striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last week, members of the Supreme Court didn’t just neuter a major component of landmark civil rights law. The justices also eliminated the workload of several dozen federal employees. Until the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder on June 25, a few dozen of the 100 or so employees of the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division had been assigned to review the 14,000 to 20,000 voting changes submitted each year by jurisdictions that needed DOJ permission before implementing new rules or, say, changing the location of a polling place. DOJ is reassigning those attorneys and support staff after the Supreme Court ruled that the Voting Rights Act Section 4 — the part of the law that defined which localities needed to have their laws precleared under Section 5 — was unconstitutional. The court’s Section 4 declaration effectively eliminates Section 5 enforcement.

National: DOJ Denounces Voting Rights Act Decision | National Law Journal

For months, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has insisted in speeches that the U.S. Department of Justice will remain aggressive in protecting the right to vote no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the latest challenge of the Voting Rights Act. Holder’s words will be put to a test after the high court on June 25 struck down a key anti-discrimination provision in federal voting rights law. Last week, Holder said the “decision represents a serious setback for voting rights — and has the potential to negatively affect millions of Americans across the country.” Holder only hinted at just how seriously the justices’ ruling in Shelby County v. Holder would wound voting rights enforcement — an effort the attorney general has repeatedly highlighted as among his proudest achievements as the nation’s top law enforcement official. Former government lawyers say the ruling will force the Civil Rights Division into less efficient enforcement paths, potentially causing a resources crisis that could greatly reduce the government’s effectiveness.

Voting Blogs: If Section 5 Falls: New Voting Implications | Brennan Center for Justice

As the Supreme Court prepares to release its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, this report analyzes new implications — that have so far gone largely unnoted — if the Court takes the extraordinary step of striking down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This key provision has been crucial to challenging restrictive voting laws proposed by states in recent years. Without the protections of Section 5, states might seek to reinstate or push a wave of discriminatory voting measures that were previously blocked or deterred by the law. This would seriously threaten the rights of minority voters across the country to cast a ballot and generate additional confusion and litigation over voting rules.

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Texas: Fate Of Voting Rights Act Weighs Heavily In Texas | Fronteras Desk

There are several history-making decisions expected to be handed down from the United States Supreme Court in June. One could effectively wipe out the Voting Rights Act. In Texas, minority voters fear a possible loss of legal protection, while states’ rights activists are eager for a change. At a recent San Antonio field hearing on redistricting Texas lawmakers once again got an earful about Congressional District maps that the courts have ruled discriminate against minorities. Jose Garza testified for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. And he kept bringing up Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. “The Supreme Court has ruled over and over and over again that the exclusive jurisdiction for making determinations under section five lies at the department of justice and with the district court in the district of Columbia and not with the local Texas court,” Garza said.

National: Shelby County’s Voting Rights Act case should get Supreme Court decision this month |

Many are expecting the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a ruling this month on Shelby County’s challenge of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Section 5 “preclearance” provisions. In the case known as Shelby County V. Holder, lawyers representing Shelby County government are attempting to declare parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional as they pertain to 16 states including Alabama that need federal permission for changes in elections. Lawyers representing Shelby County, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 27 in the case.

National: Voting rights in the balance as Supreme Court about to issue decision | NBC

The Supreme Court is expected to soon announce its decision on a case which many Latino organizations are closely watching – whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act will be struck down.  Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires covered states and counties to obtain “preclearance” from the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before implementing any voting changes.  NBC News Justice correspondent Pete Williams says this is “the most potent part of a law widely considered the most important piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress.” National civil rights organizations like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), National Council of la Raza, the Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, argue that Section 5 has kept some counties and states from establishing voting laws or guidelines that make it more difficult for Latinos and other minorities to vote.  Last year civil rights groups took issue with proposed voting laws in Texas and Florida which would have required stricter voter ID or would have limited early voting days, for example.  Civil rights groups said these laws would have made it more difficult for Latinos and African Americans to vote.

Editorials: Update Section 5 of Voting Rights Act, don’t toss it | Dallas Morning News

Every time we enter a voting booth, we collectively make a national statement that each of us matters, that we are free and independent and control our destiny. That we choose to be part of a community that engages in peaceful political engagement. Voting is to democracy what praying is to religion: an expression of a belief system. Voting is how we the people have actually formed a more perfect union. It defines who we are and what we aspire to be. It marked our evolution from a country dominated by white, male landowners to one that included — in every sense of the word — women and, ultimately, minorities. Sometime this month, perhaps as early as today, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision that could be pivotal for voting rights. Shelby County vs. Holder may become as much a part of our popular lexicon as Roe vs. Wade and Brown vs. Board of Education.

Alaska: Judge to Alaska Redistricting Board: Get back to work | Alaska Dispatch

As the Alaska Redistricting Board sits mostly idle despite a December 2012 state Supreme Court decision that ordered all 40 voting districts to be redrawn, a Fairbanks Superior Court judge Thursday offered up a verbal smackdown to the board, chastising the inaction and ordering public hearings related to the next redrawing process. “Alaskans are no closer to having constitutional voting districts today” than they were in December, said Superior Court judge Michael McConahy.  Every 10 years, Alaska’s voting lines are ordered to be redrawn according to the latest U.S. Census data. In Alaska, not only are there state requirements to be met, but any redistricting plan must also appease the federal Voting Rights Act. Alaska is among several states requiring Department of Justice confirmation that minority groups aren’t subject to discrimination by proposed voting changes.

Indiana: State to spend $2M to clean up voter rolls | Tribune Star

Indiana’s bloated voter registration rolls, which officials say make elections more susceptible to fraud, will soon come under more scrutiny by the state. The Indiana Secretary of State’s office will spend more than $2 million to purge the voter registration rolls in each of Indiana’s 92 counties, removing the names of voters who are dead, in prison, or have moved away. County election officials are responsible for keeping the voter rolls current, but the lack of money has caused some of them to fall behind. The result: In some counties, the number of people listed on the active voter rolls is higher than the number of voting-age people who live there.

Texas: DOJ ignores Latinos in Texas voting rights case |

The Department of Justice is blocking a voter-approved plan to convert the board of the Beaumont Independent School District from a system of seven geographic districts to one with five districts and two at-large seats. The $47 million spent on this sports complex raised the first of many questions about the behavior of the Beaumont Independent School District Board. Yet local Latinos say that it’s the Justice Department that’s doing the disenfranchising by insisting on a system that excludes a growing minority group.

Arizona: Maricopa analysis: Early-voting plan would ax 20K voters from permanent absentee list |

Maricopa County officials said that about 20,000 registered voters would be removed from the permanent early-voting list under proposed legislation aimed at reducing the number of provisional ballots. No particular demographic group would be hit harder than another, according to an analysis by the Maricopa County Elections Department. Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, developed SB 1261 with input from county election officials. As approved by the Senate, it would remove people from permanent early- voting lists if they fail to vote in four consecutive federal elections and fail to respond to notice from the county elections office. “No other other state that I found who has a permanent early voting list has no ability to clean up their list,” Reagan said.

Texas: Beaumont voting rights case sparks heated debate in Washington court | Houston Chronicle

Beaumont lawyers are engaged in a bitter legal batter far from home in Washington, D.C. While filing their briefs for a D.C. case alleging voting rights violations, lawyers for some school board candidates have filed a separate suit over the canceled May Beaumont election, alleging the school board did not have legal authority to cancel the election. Due to the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision last week to hear a case on the Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) elections, judges held up an injunction requested by the Department of Justice.

National: Attorney General Holder wants voting rights provision upheld | Associated Press

On the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death, Attorney General Eric Holder challenged the Supreme Court to uphold a key section of the Voting Rights Act that requires all or part of 15 states with a history of discrimination to get federal clearance before carrying out changes in elections. Holder made the comments Thursday in a speech to a civil rights group whose founder and president is the Rev. Al Sharpton. Focusing on issues he regards as important during President Barack Obama’s second term in office, Holder vowed to protect the voting rights of all Americans, safeguard young people from gun violence and improve the criminal justice system. Opponents of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 say the pre-clearance requirement has outlived its usefulness. Starting in 2009, the Supreme Court made clear its skepticism about the present-day need for the provision. The court is considering a challenge on the issue from Shelby County, Ala., near Birmingham.

Editorials: America needs the Voting Rights Act | Howard Simon/

The U. S. Supreme Court seems poised to declare Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. The challenge, filed by Shelby County, Alabama, was invited by signals sent by the Supreme Court in earlier cases. It will be surprising if the decision departs from the Court’s ideological and partisan 5–4 divide. Section 5 requires that 9 states and parts of 7 others — all with a history of discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities — get approval from the Department of Justice or the federal court in Washington before making changes to voting laws or procedures. This “pre-clearance” is designed to ensure that changes do not have a retrogressive impact on the voting rights of minorities. …  The tactics of voter suppression have changed since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. It is less common that people of color face violence or are murdered when they try to exercise their fundamental rights as a citizen. Instead, bureaucrats purge voter rolls and legislators restrict voter registration activities. … The tactics of voter suppression have changed, but voter suppression has not ended.

Virginia: McDonnell signs bill requiring photo ID for voting | Richmond Times Dispatch

Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed legislation requiring voters to present photo ID at the polls. He will also issue an executive order directing the state Board of Elections to implement a campaign to educate the public on the changes and to help them obtain a photo ID before the 2014 election. The legislation allows for a free photo ID for those who need a valid photo identification. In his executive order, McDonnell says Virginia has “long required” voters to bring valid ID to the polls in order to cast a vote and that federal law has required ID for certain first-time voters in federal elections for almost a decade. “These efforts have made our electoral system less subject to fraud, but we must continue to look for ways to further address any vulnerabilities in our system,” the executive order states.

Arizona: Minority senators raise alarm on elections-linked bills | AZCentral

A trio of racially diverse state senators on Monday condemned elections-related bills that they say discriminate against minorities and called on the U.S. Department of Justice to monitor the legislation. Of particular concern to the senators are Senate Bill 1003, which would limit who can return a voter’s ballot, and SB 1261, which would drop people from the early voting list if they failed to mail in their ballots and instead voted at the polls. Both passed the Senate last week. “It would truly throw up obstacles to the early-vote process,” Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor said of SB 1261. She is African-American. She was joined by Sens. Jack Jackson Jr., a Navajo, and Steve Gallardo, who is Latino. All three are Democrats, and all three said the bills would have a “devastating” impact on minority voting.

Editorials: Challenge to Voting Rights Act ignores reality | Donna Brazile/

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama was at the Capitol, joining leaders of Congress to dedicate a statue in honor of the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” Alabama’s Rosa Parks. About the same time, across the street at the Supreme Court, an Alabama lawyer was arguing that a key provision of the Voting Rights Act — the consequence and legacy of the Civil Rights Movement — was unnecessary and unconstitutional. The irony lies not only in the timing or juxtaposition, but the institutions. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat when a white bus driver ordered her to move. Twelve years earlier, the same driver had grabbed her coat sleeve and pushed her off his bus for trying to enter through the front rather than the back door. This time he said, “Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.” She replied, “You may do that.” Her arrest led to a 381-day boycott of Montgomery buses by the black community. The boycott propelled the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to prominence as a civil rights leader. And the arrest of Parks and the boycott she inspired led to a civil law suit, Browder v. Gayle, in which the Supreme Court declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses unconstitutional. It took Congress 10 years to catch up to the Supreme Court, when it passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

New Hampshire: State to get a voter bailout from feds | NEWS06

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.