George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

Tallahassee Democra⁠t⁠: H⁠i⁠gh cour⁠t⁠ s⁠t⁠r⁠i⁠kes down prov⁠i⁠s⁠i⁠ons of Vo⁠t⁠⁠i⁠ng R⁠i⁠gh⁠t⁠s Ac⁠t⁠

By: The James Madison Institute / 2013

WASHINGTON – Until now, Collier County officials had to check with Washington if they wanted to draw new county commission boundaries to reflect population changes or move a polling place to improve access for voters.But that “pre-clearance” requirement is gone with the Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday throwing out a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.Tuesday’s 5-4 ruling invalidating Section 4 of the act means all or part of 15 states with a history of discrimination, including Florida, no longer need approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes, no matter how small, to their voting procedures.Gov. Rick Scott said the 5-4 ruling will simply let Florida take care of its own elections, which he said state government is committed to running fairly. Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s office said it means the five “pre-clearance” counties, Collier among them, which have had to run election-law changes past the Department of Justice will be able to join the other 62 in adopting whatever changes the Legislature or local governments decide to make in the future.Civil rights advocates, including Florida A&M University Associate Law Professor Patricia Broussard, had argued the Voting Rights Act has been the best defense against a return to the days when racism permeated election procedures in many parts of the country, particularly the South.“The sentiment that we have arrived at a ‘post-racial’ society ignores contemporary realities that prove otherwise,” Broussard wrote in a court filing supporting the Justice Department.The filing was submitted on behalf of more than 40 students at FAMU’s law school.Supporters of the original 1965 law, which imposed federal control on states and some counties with history of discrimination, said Tuesday’s ruling is a threat to the social progress minority voters have made in nearly 40 years. Some said state and local governments will revert to the old ways of subtle changes in the law or the drawing of political district boundaries, to make it harder for minority voters to be effective.“There is no federal right to vote, so the only thing that prevents state discrimination and state tyranny has been the Voting Rights Act,” Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho said. “We cannot allow the states to rob their citizens of the right to vote.”Former county commissioner Anita Davis, a life member of the NAACP and longtime voting-rights activist, expressed similar concern. She said she had heard a radio news report of the ruling, but had not studied it Tuesday afternoon.“I don’t think that’s a good thing,” she said. “I listen all the time for things that are undermining or undercutting, to see that we’re not going back.”Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties in Florida are affected by the court’s ruling in the case of Shelby County vs. Holder. Shelby County in Alabama is among the jurisdictions that were subject to Section 5. Holder is Attorney General Eric Holder.Section 4 is the formula that Congress has used to determine which jurisdictions were subject to pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Tuesday’s ruling frees those states, counties, cities and towns — most are in the Deep South — to change their voting procedures as they see fit.Parts of Florida and several other states became subject to Section 5 in 1975. The change meant they had to provide bilingual voting materials, including ballots where members of a single-language minority made up more than 5 percent of voting-age citizens. In 2010, about 22 percent of Collier County’s voting-age population was Hispanic.The provision requiring bilingual voting materials was relaxed over time, but the five Florida counties still had to obtain permission from federal officials before making any change in how they ran elections.None of the five Florida counties affected by Tuesday’s ruling was part of a lawsuit to overturn the voting rights provision the Supreme Court invalidated with Tuesday’s ruling.The Supreme Court ruling follows a 2012 election in Florida tinged with charges of racism.Civil rights groups accused Scott and the GOP-controlled legislature of trying to suppress the minority vote during the 2012 election cycle by passing a law that made it much harder to register new voters and by slashing the number of early-voting days, when turnout among blacks is disproportionately high.Scott also ended the automatic restoration of ex-felons’ voting rights and wanted local election officials to purge the rolls of voters whose citizenship could not be verified.Scott said he took the steps to prevent voter fraud. The legislature passed a bill this year that reverses many of those restrictions. The governor signed it into law on May 20.“As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote,” President Barack Obama said in a statement lamenting the Supreme Court ruling. “But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination.”Robert F. Sanchez, policy director at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, called the ruling a good sign of restraint by the nation’s highest court. He said the decision may mean “that future federal oversight of the state’s conduct of elections will require an application of more timely evidence of problems, with the evidence weighed in accordance with more stringent standards.“In the absence of compelling evidence, the conduct of elections is better left to the states,” he said.Chris Cate, an aide to Secretary of State Ken Detzner, said the cost of pre-clearance in those five counties was nearly $821,000 since 2011. He said Florida was not included under the Voting Rights Act because of racial discrimination, as many other Southern states were, but because those five counties in 1972 had non-English-speaking populations greater than 5 percent and were using only English ballots.“We’re pleased that now all 67 Florida counties are going to be able to implement elections laws at the same time,” Cate said. “Florida has always been very supportive of the Voting Rights Act.”