Court Exempts Granite State From Voting Rights Oversight
New Hampshire will not have to comply with a provision of the Voting Rights Act that is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, a federal court has ruled, giving the Granite State the “bailout” from extra oversight regarding the landmark civil rights law that state officials have long sought.
Late Friday, the three-judge panel with the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., ruled that the 10 New Hampshire communities subject to the law — including Unity — would no longer have to “pre-clear” changes in their voting laws with federal authorities under Section 5 of the law.
The preclearance provision has been credited with boosting the political inclusion of minorities since it was passed 48 years ago. But the law’s detractors say it was designed during a different era, when racial discrimination was much more widespread, and is no longer necessary.
Most of the states covered under Section 5 are in the South, but New Hampshire was caught up in it for a couple of reasons, including the fact that it had a literacy test as a voter qualification that was still on the books in 1968, a key trigger date for application of the Voting Rights Act. The literacy test has since been repealed.
Also, 10 New Hampshire towns had low voter turnout during the 1968 presidential election.
In November, New Hampshire sought to get exempted, or “bailed out,” from the requirement and the following month won the backing of the U.S. Justice Department. But it still needed court approval. On Friday, the court said it found no evidence that the New Hampshire towns had tried to discriminate against voters.
“During the 10 years preceding the filing of this action, and during the pendency of this action, there is no evidence that anyone participating in elections in the covered towns and townships in New Hampshire nor the governmental units within them has been subject to intimidation or harassment in the course of exercising his or her rights protected under the Voting Rights Act,” the judges said in the ruling.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the law’s implications for other states.
The law is being challenged in the Supreme Court by Shelby County, Ala., a Birmingham suburb that is arguing the state bears no resemblance to the racially divided place that the law intended to apply in 1965.
Supreme Court justices heard arguments on the case last week.
Chris Fleisher can be reached at email@example.com.