By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Until Congress is able to come up with new voting rights rules, states could give some of their most controversial voting laws a second life.
The U.S. Senate today is discussing the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out a section of the Voting Rights Act. That section established a formula that determined which counties nationwide would be required to clear voting laws with the federal government before implementing them. Five counties in Florida fell under that part of the civil rights-era law.
However, Congress is only beginning to discuss a possible replacement of the section. Today’s Senate hearing, according to MSNBC, “will feature testimony from VRA backers in the House and some prominent VRA opponents.”
In the meantime, however, the Supreme Court decision from this summer has already prompted states such as Texas to take up its controversial voter ID law, which was halted under the former section of Voting Rights Act.
Florida is considering resurrecting one of its own controversial voting practices: last year’s voter purge.
Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reports that “Gov. Rick Scott’s administration wants a federal judge in Tampa to dismiss a lawsuit stemming from last year’s controversial effort to scrub non-citizens from the state voter database”:
Attorneys for Scott’s chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, have asked U.S. District Judge James Whittemore in Tampa to dismiss a suit filed by a Hispanic voter advocacy group, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, and two Tampa-area voters. At the crux of their lawsuit was the assertion that Detzner failed to obtain preclearance, or approval from the the federal government, before searching the voter file for potential non-citizens …
Anticipating the action by the nation’s highest court, the judge in February postponed further action in the case and ordered both sides to file a joint stipulation of dismissal within 20 days of the Shelby decision.
In seeking dismissal, one of Detzner’s attorneys, J. Andrew Atkinson, said in a motion filed Wednesday that the pre-clearance provision was “the sole basis for this action,” and that “plaintiffs cannot resuscitate this action even if Congress creates a new coverage formula and even if some jurisdiction in Florida were covered by it and subject to the preclearance requirement.”
Bousquet also reports that this could signal the purge is “likely to resume” once the lawsuit clears.
Until then, groups such as Mi Familia Vota have to rely on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 “prohibits state and local officials from adopting or maintaining voting laws or procedures that purposefully discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group,” according to the Justice Department.
While Section 2 does give groups such as Mi Familia Vota legal recourse, it can only stop a discriminatory law once damage has occurred and that damage can be shown in court. Section 4 — along with Section 5, which implements the federal pre-clearence — were meant to stop discrimination before it begins.