[Guest post by DRJ]
The Obama Justice Department has rejected Georgia’s voter ID system that requires voters provide Social Security numbers and driver’s license data in order to vote. The rejection letter cites the law’s disproportionate impact on “African-American, Asian and/or Hispanic voters” that burdens their right to vote.
The rejection resulted from a requirement that Georgia obtain “preclearance” of voting changes under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Georgia and 16 predominantly Southern states, including Texas, are required to get “federal approval before changing election rules because of a history of discriminatory Jim Crow-era voting practices.” Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that the local government prove to federal authorities that the voting change is not discriminatory and will not adversely affect minorities.
The Georgia rejection may illustrate why a tiny Texas case brought by the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 — a case that was argued before the Supreme Court on April 29, 2009 — could have a big impact on the law:
“Texas is one of the states that is still subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Thus, when the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 (”MUD”) serving 3,500 residents wanted to change a polling place from a garage to a school, it was required to get preclearance from the DOJ. “It took two months and cost $1,250 in legal fees.”
MUD sued the federal government claiming the Section 5 preclearance requirement is no longer necessary.”
As I understand it, the lawsuit will not affect the obligations under the Voting Rights Act but it could change the burden of proof under Section 5. Specifically, instead of a local government having to prove that the proposed change does not discriminate in order to obtain preclearance, it could eliminate preclearance and thus reverse the burden by requiring that any plaintiff(s) prove a voting change has a discriminatory effect.