Can people rely on lesser known voting rights protections?

The Voting Rights Act, recently well known for its federal approval required under Section 5, also includes a portion that prohibits vote dilution, or depriving minority voters an equal opportunity to elect a candidate.

In the past, courts have restricted applying Section 2, mainly because of the burden of proof that’s required, said Allison Riggs, a staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a Durham, N.C.-based non-profit advocacy group.

Riggs, who has argued redistricting cases on behalf of state branches of the NAACP and defended the constitutionality of Section 5 in court, said she is concerned by the growing number of groups challenging the section as unconstitutional. For example, a Section 5 lawsuit filed by Shelby County, Ala., said the law was outdated, claiming the demographics in the municipalities had changed in the years since the Voting Rights Act was passed. The case is expected to reach the Supreme Court.

“In all of the work we do, there is a thread of concern that this Supreme Court might be inclined to strike down what has been the most important tool in our pocket for advancing and protecting minority voting interests,” Riggs said, noting that many still rely on the protections offered by Section 5.

Section 2 is harder for voters to depend on, she said. The burden of suing is on the minority voter claiming disenfranchisement. It’s costly, intense litigation, Riggs said, which excludes many from pursuing a case.

“One of the reasons that Congress said we need Section 5 is because Section 2 is very limited in its ability to bring about remedies because it’s time consuming, expensive and [voters] don’t have access to the resources they need in order to get there,” Riggs said.

By Caitlin O’Donnell, News21

News21 prepares for Texas voter ID court case

On Monday, Washington, D.C., District Court will hear testimony over the Department of Justice’s rejection of the Texas voter ID law.

The News21 team is gearing up for the trip to D.C., and as we prepare for this case, we wanted to give you a brief look at the major players and what is at stake.

The law

The Texas Legislature passed its voter ID law in March 2011 on a party line vote — Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.

Federal approval

Texas is one of nine states subject to preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. After a slow response by Justice and the denial of a similar law in South Carolina, Texas officials decided to sue Attorney General Eric Holder before the Texas law could be denied preclearance.

The state sued on Jan. 23, although the department did not
formally deny preclearance until March.

What’s at stake

Texas legislators argue that the law is an attempt to prevent voter fraud by instilling confidence in the electoral process and giving election officials the tools to maintain the integrity of elections.

In court documents filed by Texas, the state also argues that federal oversight of the law overreaches authority.

Attorney General Holder and advocacy groups assert that the
law could disenfranchise thousands of registered voters — particularly Latinos,
who are one in five registered voters in Texas.

By Lindsey Ruta, News21

Tom Horne: Arizona attorney general says DOJ oversteps in elections

Tom Horne: Arizona attorney general says DOJ oversteps in elections

Tom Horne is the attorney general for Arizona. Photo by Khara Persad/News21

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne says that federal oversight of the state’s elections under the Voting Rights Act was never necessary in Arizona and now calls it unconstitutional in any state.

“It’s totally unjustified,” Horne said. “I don’t think anybody is trying to prevent anyone else from voting in 2012. They probably did in 1950 in the South, but in Arizona in 2012, no one is trying to prevent anyone else from voting. And the federal government has no business trying to micromanage what we do.”

Horne filed a lawsuit last August challenging Section 5 of the federal law that requires states with a history of discrimination to be cleared before they can change local election laws.

By Jack Fitzpatrick and Khara Persad, News21