Since the Supreme Court invalidated the Department of Justices’ authority to enforce the preclearance requirements of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, voting rights organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) insist a deluge of local election activity designed to disenfranchise African-American voters and political candidates will ensue.
It has been just over one year since the Shelby decision, in which the court deemed the coverage formula for the act’s preclearance provision unconstitutionally outdated. In this election year, the question now becomes appropriate; Deluge or not?
A quick check of the national headlines for the past year or so reveals an epic battle to quell a burgeoning influx of voter identification laws. North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Mississippi have all aggressively moved forward with various iterations of ID requirements; the bane of the minority voting rights community.
Certainly there are legitimate concerns about how these laws will affect minority access to the ballot, and each of these laws vary in their “aggressiveness.” But might the national focus on voter ID be a distraction compared to the potential for electoral shenanigans within the vast network of local elections. The ripple effects of Shelby may just be the most dramatic in the humdrum corners of small town America.
If there is rampant disenfranchisement in towns and cities across the nation now that they are no longer obliged to report their activity to the DOJ, minority voters would lose power that resides close to home. CNN producers probably don’t think city council elections in Ruckersville, VA are newsworthy but what if there where thousands or even tens of thousands Ruckersville’s? The question remains: has Shelby created local minority disenfranchisement on a massive scale?
The LDF is actively tracking any adverse “responses” to the Shelby decision by state and local government. This is a difficult task without the mandatory reporting requirements under preclearance. So far, in the year after the decision, the LDF told a senate committee last June that “…lack of preclearance is particularly troublesome at the local level.”
Local jurisdictions in at least six states (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas) have made aggressive moves that the LDF says revoke or endanger the minority voting franchise, tactics include:
Eliminating elected positions held by people of color;
Altering voting districts;
Altering election methods;
Moved, closed and/or reduced polling places in African-American enclaves;
Shifted the dates of elections; and
Details on each of these tactics are documented in Sherilynn Ifill’s testimony to the committee and its attached report below.